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Australia grain: AWB wheat monopoly in new storm
SYDNEY , Australia's controversial wheat export monopoly has been drawn into a new political storm after recommendations from a parliamentary committee that could turn a small legislative amendment into a new challenge to the powers of exporter AWB Ltd.
A committee of the Upper House Senate this week recommended that the wheat monopoly export system, operated by AWB subsidiary AWB (International) Ltd, is subjected to yet another major review.
It also recommended that the Wheat Industry Authority (WEA), a statutory government body that authorises non-bulk wheat exports, no longer be required to consult AWB over applications by traders to export bagged or containerised wheat.
Other recommendations were that AWB face legal disclosure requirements to WEA, and that WEA be funded for only a year.
The crux is the attempt to turn a scheduled 2004 review by WEA of AWB's operation of the single desk into another full-scale independent inquiry after one held in 2000 recommended AWB retain its monopoly powers.
At stake is AWB's virtual monopoly on all exports of Australian wheat, apart from a small amount of bagged and containerised wheat, which makes up, about, only about one-percent of total exports.
AWB export monopoly of Australian bulk wheat allows it to negotiate international sales and prices without competition from other Australian exporters.
The single desk, as the monopoly is known, is strongly supported by Australian wheat growers, but castigated by private traders who want a slice of the export action, as well as by competing US wheat exporters.
Pressure to turn the recommendations of the Senate committee into law in a looming bill on WEA funding is a potential time bomb for AWB.
The suggested single-year funding for WEA hangs a threat of change over the system.
All this follows anti-AWB campaigns which have been running hot in industry and government corridors and cocktail parties for months as private traders eye a slice of the action in the world's second largest block of exported wheat.
All recommendations are unlikely to be adopted in the bill. But some could, perhaps a five-year funding period for WEA and stiffer legal disclosure requirements, industry sources say.
Almost immediately after the Senate report was released late on Wednesday, Federal Agriculture Minister Warren Truss opposed a new inquiry, as well as recommendations for the removal of AWB's right of consultation over applications bagged or containerised exports, and one-year funding for the WEA.
"There's nothing stopping exports of millions of tonnes by some of the large corporations in containers outside of the single desk if there was to be open slather in relation to exports from bags and containers," Truss said on ABC Radio.
"We've just had an independent review under the National Competition Policy principles and there'll be another one of those review scheduled for 2010," Truss told the Country Hour.
MGR Archive 23.6.2003
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