Wheat export red tape fears

Andrew Probyn Federal Political EditorThe West Australian

Wheat exporters fear the deep rift inside the Abbott Government over the proposed sale of GrainCorp to a US company will lead to a red tape nightmare for the entire sector, including in WA.

Industry insiders told The West Australian that if the Government sought to allay fears about the takeover's impact on ports access and competition by increasing regulation, costs would rise.

Among those companies that would be affected are WA-based CBH, Australia's biggest grain exporter.

Treasurer Joe Hockey has until December 17 to decide whether to allow ADM's $3.4 billion bid for GrainCorp.

The Nationals and some rural Liberals are deeply opposed to the takeover.

One industry source said rather than using regulation to placate critics of the sale, the Government should consider demanding GrainCorp divest some assets as a sale condition.

Adding to industry uncertainty is that a compulsory code of conduct, forced on the sector by the Greens as a condition of supporting Labor's full deregulation of wheat exports last year, is yet to be finalised by Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce.

Mr Joyce, a Nationals MP, opposed the takeover.

_The West Australian _ reported last week senior Liberals believed Tony Abbott was inclined to oppose the deal or impose such onerous conditions as to make ADM's purchase of GrainCorp unattractive.

But the Prime Minister said yesterday it was "entirely a matter for the Treasurer".

"We are happy, very happy, to have foreign investment in Australia," he said.

"It does have to be the right investment, not the wrong investment, it does have to accord with our overall national interest and there is no better way of ensuring that that's the case than the Foreign Investment Review Board process with the final decision to be made by the Treasurer."

GrainCorp chief executive Alison Watkins yesterday dismissed concerns about access to ports.

Australian Workers Union boss Paul Howes said he and his union supported the sale.

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