New freedom for wheat exports

Claire TyrrellCountryman

The Federal Government has its sights set on full deregulation of wheat exports by the 2014-15 harvest.

The Government handed down its response the Productivity Commission's inquiry into Australia's wheat export marketing arrangements last Friday, recommending complete deregulation.

The first key change, if amendments to the Wheat Export Marketing Act 2008 are passed by Parliament, is that by September 30, 2012, wheat exporters will no longer need to be accredited.

The body set up to oversee wheat exports - Wheat Exports Australia (WEA) - and the Wheat Export Charge will be abandoned once the accreditation scheme is abolished in September 2012.

The Productivity Commission had recommended the accreditation scheme be phased out by this month, but the Federal Government wanted that pushed back 12 months, arguing a gradual phase-in would make the transition smoother.

But Federal Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig said a "lighter touch" approach would apply from the start of next month, with companies seeking to export wheat from Australia in the interim no longer required to provide as much information.

"This will reduce the level of administrative red tape for exporters, including accredited port terminal operators, and allow growers more time to adapt to the new environment," Mr Ludwig said.

October 2014 would complete the changes, when access issues would be governed by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

A voluntary code of conduct for wheat exporters would also be set in place by September 30, 2014.

Some of those who long championed to keep the wheat single desk and with it grower control of the AWB - now in the hands of global trader Cargill - lament the Government's decision to adopt the Productivity Commission's recommendations.

"I don't think deregulation is in the best interests of farmers," WAFarmers Corrigin Zone representative Bob Iffla said.

"The Government needs to look at re-regulating the grains industry with a single desk system."

Mr Iffla said grain market deregulation could adversely affect the clean image of Australian grain.

"I am very concerned about quality control and keeping a clean green image for Australia," he said.

"I think it is going to negatively affect our future."

For those who led the push for deregulation, like the Pastoralists and Graziers Association and CBH, the changes cannot come soon enough.

PGA Western Graingrowers chairman John Snooke said the elimination of regulatory bodies such as WEA was positive for the industry.

"Wheat needs no specific statutory authority sitting above it because none of the other soft commodities has such regulatory bodies," he said.

"Once WEA is abolished, it will allow for further competition in the market."

Access tests for wheat marketers are to remain until full deregulation in 2014, by which time alternative port access agreements would be in place.

CBH chief executive Andy Crane said he supported the Federal Government's move to deregulate the wheat export market, but it could have been implemented faster.

"CBH strongly agrees with Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig that the transition to a fully deregulated market in bulk wheat exports will improve future wheat marketing arrangements and reduce costs to growers and exporters," Dr Crane said.

"It is our view that the Government's phased approach to full deregulation could be done more quickly, with both the abolition of WEA and the removal of a separate port access test for bulk handlers occurring from September 30, 2011, rather than in 2012 and 2014, respectively."

Australian Grain Exporters Association executive officer Rosemary Richards said the Government's response to the issue was appropriate, but could have been better timed.

"The Government's response to the Productivity Commission report has been quite delayed, but in general, it has accepted the commission's recommendations," she said.

"We support the need for access agreements to continue (until 2014), but not for the accreditation scheme.

"We do need to see a continuation of port access arrangements to get a basis for fair access for everyone."

Amendments to the Wheat Export Marketing Act 2008 are expected to be put to Federal Parliament in April/May 2012.

Wheat export market deregulation *

October 1, 2011:

·Companies will be required to provide less detail in applying for accreditation.

·Wheat Exports Australia retains its capacity to respond to issues relating to exporter accreditation.

·Wheat Export Charge remains.

October 1, 2012:

·Wheat Exports Australia and Wheat Export Charge removed.

·Access test for wheat exporters remains.

October 1, 2014:

·Full deregulation of wheat export market.

·Access issues governed by general law (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission).

·Voluntary code of conduct for wheat exporters set in place.

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