WASHINGTON, D.C.- Congressman Bob Goodlatte, Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee convened a hearing today to review agriculture in Iraq and the successful food assistance operation that reached 26 million Iraqis during the transition from Saddam's Iraq to a free Iraq . The hearing also included an update on the investigations into the Oil for Food program and discussion about the future of Iraqi production agriculture and trade.
The fate of Iraq's agriculture production under the regime of Saddam was neglected, with agricultural research, improvements to infrastructure and advancements in farm technology largely deficient. Feeding the Iraqi people was not a priority of Saddam's regime. After twice denying the United Nation's proposals to establish Oil for Food programs, the regime accepted the proposal in May 1996 under the conditions that Saddam maintain sovereignty by negotiating contracts for oil sales and the purchase of humanitarian goods. Saddam's abuses continued as his regime pocketed over $10 billion from the program.
Congressman Goodlatte recognized the impact of the Oil for Food scandal on the American taxpayer, saying, "The Oil for Food scandal, currently under investigation, is of great concern to both this Committee and the American taxpayer. I am hopeful that the investigations will shed some light on ways in which the UN can learn from the lessons of the past and hold all those involved in this scandal accountable."
Critical U.S. food assistance was temporarily provided to Iraq during the transition last summer, helping to avoid a major humanitarian crisis. Even so, currently in the World Trade Organization negotiations, some countries, including the European Union, are criticizing the use of food aid.
Chairman Goodlatte voiced concern over the suggestions that the U.S. effectively end the program. "Each year 10 million people die from hunger and malnutrition " I am deeply troubled by the proposals of these countries which would effectively end the U.S. food aid program, and am committed to ensuring that the bounty of America's farmers and ranchers can be shared with the needy around the world."
When asked by Chairman Goodlatte what would happen if U.S. food programs were not in place around the world, Mr. William J. Garvelink, Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance at USAID replied, "People will die."
Goodlatte concluded saying, "I am hopeful as we look toward the future of Iraqi agriculture production and the potential for trade, particularly as they move toward a more democratic and mark et based system. After a troubled past, there is now the very real potential that America's farmers and ranchers will soon resume commercial sales to the Iraqi people."
Mr. William J. Garvelink, Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance, United States Agency for International Development, Washington, D.C.
Mr. Joseph A. Christoff, Director, International Affairs and Trade , United States General Accounting Office, Washington, D.C.
Mr. H. Lee Schatz, Special Counsel for Iraq Reconstruction, Office of the Administrator of the Foreign Agricultural Service , United States Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C.
Mr. John King, Vice Chairman, USA Rice Council, Helena, Arkansas, on behalf of USA Rice Federation and US Rice Producers Association
Mr. Lochiel Edwards, President, Montana Association of Wheat Growers, Big Sandy, Montana, on behalf of Wheat Export Trade Education Committee, National Association of Wheat Growers, and U.S. Wheat Associates