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Howard, Bush to Discuss Iraq Reconstruction - 2003-04-30

Australia's Prime Minister John Howard is on his way to the United States to visit President Bush at his ranch in Texas. Mr. Howard will discuss post-war reconstruction in Iraq and will lobby for a share of lucrative commercial contracts. Australia sent 2,000 troops to the campaign in Iraq -it's largest combat deployment since the war in Vietnam.

Australia's leader John Howard has been a staunch U.S. ally, sharing a strategic view of global security in the war against terrorism. Australia and Britain were the only two countries to deploy forces in the U.S.-led invasion to disarm Iraq and oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

As post-war reconstruction gets under way, Australian businesses are looking to secure some of the lucrative contracts to help rebuild Iraq. Mr. Howard will be pressing their case when he meets with President Bush in Crawford, Texas later this week.

Australian trade officials are already in Washington lobbying for millions of dollars worth of engineering, construction, oil and agriculture contracts.

Before the war, Australian farmers were the world's largest exporter of wheat to Iraq. It was a billion dollar business and one that's now increasingly under threat. American farmers, denied access to the Iraqi market after the 1991 Gulf War, are ready to move in.

The president of the Australian Grains Council, Keith Perrett, is keen to see his industry survive and prosper in post-war Iraq. "We've certainly had discussions with government and, at the end of the day, what we expect out of the government is to ensure that Australians have a fair opportunity to compete in that market on reasonable terms," he said. "We don't wish to see tactics used by other nations, which undermine Australia's marketing efforts into the Iraqi market. That's all we ask for, is a fair go at that market allowing us to compete under the terms that we have in the past."

Australia is the first country to send a commercial delegation to Washington to lobby for post-war contracts.

In addition, Canberra and Washington are in the middle of negotiating a free trade agreement. Prime Minister Howard's government has stressed that support for the war in Iraq was not designed to ensure more liberal trade relations with the world's biggest economy.