Bunge gets Buswell nod

Kate PollardCountryman

Transport Minister Troy Buswell has confirmed in-principle support for international grain exporter Bunge to export grain from Bunbury Port.

With a market capitalisation of $10.07 billion, Bunge has the financial capacity to be the first investor in portside infrastructure in WA since wheat and barley markets were deregulated.

Last year, it completed a $250 million grain export terminal at Longview, Washington, the first built in the US in more than two decades.

If the proposal by the global agribusiness and food company goes ahead, it will pave the way for grain to be exported from Bunbury and create a marketing alternative for growers.

It's been reported 500,000 tonnes of grain will be transported by road to the port.

The Bunbury Port Authority (BPA) has confirmed its preferred option for grain exports is berth 3, where there is a ship loader that is used to export woodchips.

In March 2011, BPA and the State Government committed to making a business case to land-back the berth. The cost is about $132 million and it will provide a multi-purpose heavy-lift berth and a new ship loader.

Industry insiders say Bunge's plans will encourage farmers to store more grain on-farm and could encourage other players to invest in infrastructure to bypass the need to use CBH's terminals to export grain.

A driving force behind the investment push is the cost to use CBH's port facilities, which is $17.95/t.

Port authorities at Albany, Esperance, Bunbury and Geraldton have confirmed grain traders have been expressing interest in exporting grain from existing infrastructure while keeping tabs on future port expansion opportunities.

Albany Port chief executive Brad Williamson said a difficult policy issue for ports was allocating scarce port land to a trade that might not result in a net increase in trade.

"On the other hand, the port also has to balance the policy benefits from competition," he said.

"These competing issues are being considered and any decision will be made on the merits of each case."

For ports hoping to get up, like James Point, there is a huge appetite from grain traders.

James Point chairman Chris Whitaker said 10 grain players of different sizes had expressed interest in exporting 700,000t to 2 million tonnes of grain from a common user bulk berth.

While Supreme Court action against the State Government over delays continues, Mr Whitaker said the first shipload of grain could be exported in January 2016.

Work started in June, with $15 million committed to environmental approvals and design work.

While it appears Mr Buswell is in favour of grain exports from James Point, it is in contrast to his predecessor Simon O'Brien's view.

But at Oakajee, bulk or containerised grain is off the cards, despite the port saying once established there may be an opportunity.

Bunge declined to comment.

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