UPDATE 1-Iraq needs 1 mln tonnes of wheat, 250,000 T rice - ministry

(Adds details)

BAGHDAD, March 25 (Reuters) - Iraq's trade ministry said on Wednesday it had advised the cabinet that it needed to import one million tonnes of wheat and 250,000 tonnes of rice for its food rationing programme and to boost strategic stocks in the coming months.

"The crisis committee in the ministry advised the cabinet to secure the needs of the food rationing programme and build strategic stocks," Mohamed Hanoon, trade ministry spokesman, told Reuters.

The trade ministry said on Saturday it needed more money from the budget to build three months' supply in its strategic wheat and rice stockpiles in the face of the country's growing coronavirus problem.

The wheat import figure is higher than the country had originally planned to purchase from abroad throughout 2020. In December, Iraq said it planned to import 750,000 tonnes.

The quantities suggested to the cabinet should be enough to cover demand in the coming months and build some stocks until enough supplies of local wheat are available for use around mid-June, Hanoon said. Iraq's local wheat buying season starts mid-April.

Iraq, a major Middle East wheat and rice buyer, is still in a power vacuum months after its Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi was pushed out by nationwide anti-corruption protests.

The political deadlock hampered efforts to get a state budget approved before the start of the calendar year.

The country needs between 4.5 million and 5 million tonnes of wheat a year to supply its food rationing programme. It mixes local grain with supplies from Australia, Canada and the United States.

Iraq's grain board, which falls under the trade ministry, holds regular international tenders to import wheat and rice for the rationing programme. The programme covers rice, flour, cooking oil and sugar. (Reporting by Moayed Kenany, Writing by Maha El Dahan, editing by Louise Heavens and Mark Potter)

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