Australia’s main wheat exporter, the Australian Wheat Board (AWB), has said that Iraq has reduced its wheat order for 2003 by 44%, reportedly due to Australia’s support for the US stance on Iraq.

Iraq is one of Australia’s biggest wheat customers, but threatened in July to reduce its order because of Australia’s perceived support for possible US attacks on Iraq.

The AWB said Iraq would buy one million tonnes of wheat in 2003 compared with 1.8 million tonnes in 2002, but refused to comment directly on the link between the reduced order and the Australian government’s support for the US.

The AWB also played down reports that Iraq will ask French companies to supply up to 500,000 tonnes of wheat should it meat Iraq’s wheat quality standards. The AWB said that many countries buy wheat from multiple countries and that Iraq has previously bought French wheat, reported Lloyd’s List Daily Commercial News.

The president of the Grains Council of Australia, Keith Perrett, told local ABC News Radio that Iraq’s decision to seek out French wheat was a non-political move.

“The French wheat is generally lower quality wheat and of a cheaper nature, and that’s probably the reason Iraq is looking at that,” Mr Perrett was quoted as saying by BBC News Online.