Minister for Agriculture and Food Security Peter Walsh has led a delegation of leading exporters to Iraq and met with key senior government officials to explore opportunities for increasing exports of both food and expertise from Victoria.
Mr Walsh travelled from Dubai to Bagdad this week with Bega Cheese Executive Chairman Barry Irvin and Cargill Australia Managing Director Philippa Purser during the Victorian Coalition Government's Super Trade Mission to the Middle East.
He said notwithstanding on-going security issues in Iraq, it held significant potential for Victorian exporters and that a number of other countries had already established themselves as suppliers of food and agronomic and water management expertise.
"During our visit we met with the Iraqi Trade Minister, the Deputy Ministers of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, the Chair of the National Investment Commission, business leaders and the Australian Ambassador to Iraq, Lyndall Sachs," Mr Walsh said.
"They were keen to impress upon us that Iraq is open for business and in need of large quantities of both food and expertise in irrigated agriculture from Australia and elsewhere.
"Iraq remains in the early stages of rebuilding and on-going political unrest is hampering that progress.
"Victoria can be a major food supplier of food to Iraq as we seek to double agricultural production by 2030.
"And given the expertise we have built up in water and salinity management over the past 30 years, there is a real opportunity for us to play a major role in rebuilding Iraq’s irrigated agricultural sector so that the country can regain some degree of self-sufficiency in food production.
"Those companies involved in working through the significant salinity and water management issues of the Murray Darling Basin are ideally placed to play a leading role in helping Iraq.
"Any exporters considering Iraq need to be acutely aware of its security issues, but they will also find their product and expertise highly sought after."
Mr Walsh said while Victorian exports to Iraq were relatively small compared to those shipped to some other countries, the value of food exported there in 2012-13 increased by more than 1,000 per cent to $59 million.
Key among these exports were grain, worth $53 million, and cheese, worth $4 million.
Mr Walsh said Australian wheat exports to Iraq had grown from 9,000 tonnes to 1.2 million tonnes in 2012-13 and that Iraqis favoured Australian white wheat due to its superior milling qualities for flat bread.
He said on top of their enthusiasm for more Victorian food, Iraqi Government officials were also interested in the state's grain bunkers and storage systems.
During the meetings, Mr Walsh also raised the need to develop inspection protocols for Australian meat exported directly to Iraq to reduce costs for meat exporters.
This week's visit to Iraq follows a visit to Victoria by the Iraqi Agriculture and Acting Environment Minister in March last year.