An Associated Press piece earlier this week noted that "a Bush administration appointee was dispatched to Baghdad, tasked with, among other things, figuring out whether genetically modified crops have a place in Iraq." [U.S. biotech industry pushes hard on international stage
The man in question is Dan Amstutz appointed by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman to head Iraq's agricultural reconstruction. Veneman is keen to see U.S. agribusiness play a significant role in Iraq's future where "the opportunities are immense".
Amstutz came under immediate fire from many quarters, including Oxfam, not least because of his previous role as an executive with the Cargill Corporation - the biggest grain exporter in the world and a company which has had joint ventures with Monsanto.
At a press conference Amstutz answered those criticisms by emphasising his corporate affiliations were in the distant past, "I left Cargill in 1978 and have had no affiliation with them whatsoever."
But, according to the following article, as recently as "late-October 2000, Amstutz was named chairman of the board of directors of a new company established by ADM, Cargill, Cenex Harvest States, DuPont and Louis Dreyfuss" - a company that was "owned and operated by the biggest transnational ag firms in the world" to take advantage of the "global, unregulated secondary market for ag commodities".
No wonder that Inter Press News Service's Emad Mekay writes that the appointment of Amstutz could "threaten the country's agriculture sector... Amstutz drafted the original text of the current Uruguay Round Agreement on Agriculture within the World Trade Organization, considered by many developing countries and pro-development groups as innately unjust. The agreement allows rich countries to dump their subsidy-backed agricultural surpluses on world markets, depressing prices to levels at which producers in developing nations can no longer compete."
Sounds like the perfect man for the US to introduce into the piratical chaos of post-war Iraq.
Dan Amstutz: Iraq's agriculture czar
Well-connected corporate and political operative aims to revamp Iraq's agricultural sector
When the United Nations lifted sanctions against Iraq, the U.S. officially took charge of the country's purse-strings. The UN decision will "free billions of dollars in frozen assets and future oil revenues from the UN's control and place it at the disposal of coalition forces and interim Iraqi leaders to pay for reconstruction," the Financial Times reported. "The opportunities are immense here," a senior official with the US-led civil administration in Baghdad told the London-based newspaper. "I hope everyone realizes that."
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman "realizes" that "the opportunities are immense," and in late April, Veneman took steps to insure that U.S. agribusiness will play a significant role in the future agricultural development of the country by appointing Dan Amstutz to head Iraq's agricultural reconstruction. Amstutz will also serve as Veneman's personal liaison with American military officials in the country.
"We are extremely pleased to be able to draw upon someone with Dan Amstutz's background and experience for this extremely important task," Veneman said in a USDA-issued News Release. "He will help us achieve our national objective of creating a democratic and prosperous Iraq while at the same time best utilize the resources of our farmers and food industry in the effort." The USDA will play a "key role in the U.S. Government's overall efforts to create a democratic, market driven economy in Iraq."
Who is Dan Amstutz?
Who is Dan Amstutz and why was he chosen for this important undertaking?
Amstutz brings a silo-full of government and corporate experience to the project. He was undersecretary for international affairs and commodity programs from 1983 to 1987 during the Reagan Administration, and served as ambassador and chief negotiator for agriculture during the Uruguay Round General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) talks in 1987-1989. He is a former executive with the Cargill Corporation - the biggest grain exporter in the world - and is a former executive with the International Wheat Council, as well as a past president of the North American Grain Export Association.
More recently, Amstutz has been president of Amstutz & Company, a Washington, DC-based consulting firm specializing in agribusiness and international trade issues.
While Veneman was effusive in her praise of Amstutz, Oxfam, the highly respected international aid agency, wasn't nearly as enthusiastic: "Putting Dan Amstutz in charge of agricultural reconstruction in Iraq is like putting Saddam Hussein in the chair of a human rights commission," said Kevin Watkins, Oxfam's policy director. "This guy is uniquely well placed to advance the commercial interests of American grain companies and bust open the Iraqi market, but singularly ill equipped to lead a reconstruction effort in a developing country."
In his first press conference - held on May 1st in Kuwait - Amstutz was "upbeat" in his "assessment of Iraq's food growing potential and the country's swift recovery from what he later termed its experiment in 'collective farming,'" Alan Guebert, an award-winning free-lance agricultural journalist and syndicated columnist, reported in The New Farm. Iraq, Amstutz said, "can double their wheat and barley and rice production."
Currently more than 60% of the food consumed by Iraqis is imported. Iraq is about the size of California and, according to Amstutz, it has about 11 million hectares, or 27.1 million acres, of farmable land. "Maybe about half of that is being cultivated now," he said, pointing out that there are 3 million irrigated hectares, or about 7.5 million acres. He guessed that only one-half was under production currently.
Amstutz believes that the future of food production in Iraq is inextricably linked to getting the country's oil fields up and running. "We need the oil, the fuel, the turbines to generate the power and we need power to mill the wheat into flour, and to pump the water in the irrigation areas," he said.
Iraq's rapid decline in agricultural production since 1991 was largely due to United Nations sanctions that hampered its ability to "modernize" - buy new technology, machinery and parts - and a food price system that lacked "incentive," Amstutz said. "Individual Iraqis paid 12 cents, not $12, 12 cents a month for their food basket which included flour, rice, vegetable oil and poultry. Clearly, a price level dictated by the government like that drains agriculture of incentive."
Amstutz and Cargill
To many critics, Amstutz's relationship with Cargill is a surefire sign that a major league corporate makeover is in the cards for the country's agricultural sector. At the end of the press conference Amstutz was asked about that relationship. (The following transcript comes from Alan Guebert's column.)
Question: "There's a lot of undercurrent, really, of political criticism, some of it just sort of an ad hominem attack on you spurred by Oxfam in the U.K. I don't now what you did to them when you lived in London. But they seem to think that you're not qualified to do this because, number one, you have a lot of free-market rhetoric, you used to work for Cargill, and you wrote the GATT proposal for Ronald Reagan. Now, my questions are is it true that you believe in the free market and will not advance Marxist ideology over there? Number two, when did you leave Cargill--was it more than 20 years ago? And--well, go ahead with it."
Amstutz: "It is absolutely true that I advocate free markets for healthy agriculture, a market-oriented system. I left Cargill in 1978 and have had no affiliation with them whatsoever. I can tell you I have never been accused of showing favoritism to any company all the time I was in public service, and the time I was in governmental service, people that know me and know my record know that comment by Oxfam published in a broad sheet press that is similar to some of the other press over there, is just not true."
Was Amstutz telling the truth? In late-October 2000, Amstutz was named chairman of the board of directors of a new company established by ADM, Cargill, Cenex Harvest States, DuPont and Louis Dreyfuss. According to its press release, Pradium Inc. was set up as "a separate company that will operate an online business-to-business marketplace and information resource."
"In short," writes Alan Guebert, "Pradium, owned and operated by the biggest transnational ag firms in the world, was to be global, unregulated secondary market for ag commodities. But business was tough and on Feb. 15, 2001, Pradium merged with Rooster.com, an electronic market for farmers operated by many of the same global firms. The merger failed to jumpstart Rooster or Pradium. On Dec. 10, 2001, Cargill and its partners chopped Rooster's head off - it was shut down - taking Pradium, and presumably Amstutz, with it. Was Amstutz an active participant in Pradium or was he simply window dressing to attract business to the short-lived enterprise?"
Managing Iraq's agricultural sector
How will Amstutz's agricultural plan proceed? Will help American companies gain dominance in Iraq's agricultural sector, a market that was lost to the U.S. after the 1991 Gulf War? Will Amstutz introduce genetically modified crops to Iraq?
Iraq's 2003 wheat harvest will "match" last year's 1-1.25 million tons, Lee Schatz, a senior U.S. official with the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance recently told Reuters. That means that the country will need to import about three million tons of wheat over the next 12 months. "We would expect that in an open and fair competition in agriculture products, the United States will once again have a place in the Iraqi market," Schatz said.
Australia, wary of getting shut out of that market, has already sent a team of agricultural experts - headed by Trevor Flugge, the former "high-profile" chairman of Australia's monopoly wheat exporter AWB Ltd - to work with Iraqi officials and Amstutz's team, New Zealand's Dominion Post recently reported.
Iraq's poultry industry, which employs between 500,000 to 600,000 people, said Schatz, who serves as the deputy director of the Livestock, Dairy and Poultry division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Foreign Agricultural Service, "will have to import all its inputs this year from hatching eggs to vaccines."
Another nagging issue in need of settlement is the $2 billion of bad loans, plus $1 billion in interest charges, Iraq still owes the U.S. Department of Agriculture from the 1980s when the Reagan and Bush Administration's were hungry to do business with Saddam's Iraq. "A decision about that default will have to be made before any consideration of any new [export] credits can be considered," Schatz pointed out.
The appointment of Amstutz could "threaten the country's agriculture sector," Inter Press News Service's Emad Mekay writes. "Amstutz drafted the original text of the current Uruguay Round Agreement on Agriculture within the World Trade Organization, considered by many developing countries and pro-development groups as innately unjust. The agreement allows rich countries to dump their subsidy-backed agricultural surpluses on world markets, depressing prices to levels at which producers in developing nations can no longer compete."
Will the "trade wars," "wheat wars," "poultry wars" and "biotech wars" add to the chaos of post war Iraq? Stay tuned.
Go to a Print friendly Page
Email this Article to a Friend
Back to the Archive