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Australian commodities exports hit by stronger currency
Agence France Presse
December 15, 2003 Monday - Australian commodities exports will slide 5.3 percent this financial year, losing their grip on the surging broader economy due to the Australian dollar's strength, according to official forecasts.
The local currency's rise, which makes exports more expensive, is an unwelcome development for the country's farmers who are only now starting to emerge from a drought that slashed billions from farm incomes.

Bumper winter harvests will boost total farm income but falling export prices will hit most commodities including grains, wool and energy exports, leaving the total down 5.3 percent at 82.2 billion Australian dollars (60.8 billion US).

The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics' (ABARE) forecasts for the rest of the financial year ending in June come just a week after Treasurer Peter Costello praised the resilience of the Australian economy in a difficult global environment.
Costello subsequently doubled his budget surplus forecast and revised economic growth to 3.75 percent from 3.25 percent.

But economists warned the appreciating Australian dollar is the economy's main threat.

"It makes our exports a lot more expensive and that's going to hurt," said Nomura Australia economist Tom Kenny. "I think that will outweigh the effects of a global recovery, particularly if the US upturn does not prove to be sustainable."

The Australian dollar has appreciated more than 30 percent since January, touching a fresh six-year high of 74.30 US cents last week.

ABARE said farm exports would fall 5.5 percent to 25.5 billion dollars, mineral and energy exports will fall 5.5 percent to 52.7 billion dollars, while livestock exports are expected to slump 11 percent to 12.3 billion dollars, with crops steady at 13.2 billion dollars.

ABARE executive director Brian Fisher said prices for all Australian energy and mineral exports except nickel fell in 2003.

"The competitiveness of Australian minerals and energy production was significantly eroded by the strength of the Australian dollar in 2003," Fisher said.

Livestock exports are also suffering because the industry is still reeling from the drought.

ABARE said the national sheep flock will fall to 96 million head by June, its lowest level in 50 years, and the cattle herd is also expected to shrink.

"With the drought still affecting some of the major grazing regions of New South Wales and Queensland, many producers have not been able to commence rebuilding herds and flocks or are being forced to further de-stock," the forecaster said, adding that beef and lamb prices are expected to rise.

However, a rebound in crop production will underpin a 45 percent rise in total farm income for the year as the sector leads the post-drought recovery.

Predicted bumper winter harvests will see wheat production climb 137.7 percent to 23.9 million tonnes by June 2004, although the average price of wheat is expected to fall 10.8 percent, cutting into export earnings.

Barley production is expected to more than double to 7.7 million tonnes, canola will rise 68.4 percent to 1.4 million tonnes but water-intensive cotton production will fall 19.4 percent.

MGR Archive 15.12.2003
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