The article by Secretary of Agriculture John R. Block ("We Have to Sell Grain to the Soviets," Free for All, June 5) seemed to question the cooperation the administration received from Australia with regard to the partial grain embargo against the U.S.S.R. in 1980 and 1981. Some explanation of the facts is required to correct any impression that Australia's action fell short of its stated policy of support for the United States' initiative to withhold grain supplies.
As part of the collective Western response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979, Australia agreed in January 1980 to support the United States' action to restrict grain sales to the U.S.S.R. by not replacing directly or indirectly those quantities of U.S. grain (about 17 million tons) that were being withheld from the U.S.S.R. At no stage did we depart from that commitment.
Australia's wheat and coarse grains export to the U.S.S.R. did increase in calendar year 1980 as indicated in Mr. Block's article, but there appears to be some misinterpretation of this development. The circumstances were that during calendar year 1979, before the invasion of Afghanistan, the U.S.S.R.'s international grain purchases reached record levels, and substantially increased quantities of grain were contracted from wheat exporters, including Australia. This situation preceded the crisis in Afghanistan, and was known to the U.S. administration at the time the restrictions were imposed; furthermore, shipment of this grain following the introduction of the restraint arrangement was consistent with the agreement among the participants and was in no way a substitute for United States grain subsequently withheld from the U.S.S.R.
In June 1980, following further discussions with the administration, Australia announced that restrictions on grains exports to the U.S.S.R. would continue to apply and that for the period 1980-81 (July to June) Australia's exports would be limited to a maximum of 3.9 million tons, the same level as in 1979-80. This level was not exceeded and this restraint limit was not lifted until President Reagan lifted the restraint on U.S. sales.
Australia's action effectively prevented its grain from replacing U.S. grain withheld from the U.S.S.R., and, as such, Australia fully met its undertakings to the U.S. government and other exporters involved in the grains restraint arrangement.
It is regrettable, therefore, that in an explanation of current U.S. policy relating to the question of U.S. grain trade with the U.S.S.R., doubts may have been cast on Australia's cooperation with the United States in restraining exports to the U.S.S.R. following the Afghanistan crisis.
Australia fully supported the reasons for the U.S. action in restricting grain sales to the Soviet Union in response to the invasion of Afghanistan. It continues to condemn that invasion in very strong terms and the other measures it introduced in January 1980 to curtail significantly Australia's bilateral relations with Moscow remain firmly in place.