21/05/2009 - 00:00

Traders, farmers mull new export approach

21/05/2009 - 00:00

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THERE is growing speculation that some grain traders are considering establishing their own port-based grain loading facilities to take advantage of the deregulated export environment and challenge the monopoly of grains handler CBH.

THERE is growing speculation that some grain traders are considering establishing their own port-based grain loading facilities to take advantage of the deregulated export environment and challenge the monopoly of grains handler CBH.

At least one regional Western Australian port has confirmed that it has received an approach from a potential exporter amid indications emerging farmer groups and existing corporate players are considering taking the plunge.

The proposed James Point port at Kwinana has also had approaches from grains exporters this calendar year.

Several leading multinational players have been put in the frame as potential exporters but the strongest evidence is that it is farmers themselves that are looking into establishing facilities to export their own grain.

Albany Port Authority CEO Brad Williamson confirmed that a group of farmers had approached his organisation, though it was an informal encounter.

Mr Williamson said he planned to make a submission to an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission review of the access undertakings submitted by CBH.

He said he would raise the issue of space limitations at the Albany port where CBH already had 18 hectares and there was only 5ha available for new export developments - with further expansion possibilities limited by community and environmental constraints.

Albany's main exports were woodchips and grain but there were opportunities for new products that would diversify the port's income base. Iron ore and bauxite are both potential new exports. Albany also hosts more than one cruise ship a month.

"The policy conundrum is if we allocate scarce area to new grain traders we simply spread the grain around and possibly exclude new trades," Mr Williamson said.

"There is a strong argument that I devote no new space to grain."

Agricultural region Legislative Council member-elect Jim Chown said a group of farmers had also looked into using facilities at Geraldton.

Mr Chown said issues with transparency were leading grain growers and export licensees to consider developing their own grain handling and storage facilities, both at ports and closer to the farm gate.

"At this stage it is really rumour, no-one has stumped up the dollars or a business plan," he said.

However, Mr Chown said the business case was compelling when traders' shipments were delayed, as happened this past season.

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