ACCC: Wheat ports operating fairly but current harvest may test access in 2017

16.12.2016

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has released a new monitoring report of Australian bulk wheat ports examining the 2015-16 shipping year. The report has found that port terminal owners were not generally obstructing access or receiving a disproportionate share of port terminal capacity, following the lessening of regulation at some ports last year.

“Our report found bulk wheat port terminal service providers have generally not increased their market shares to the detriment of access seekers, following the exemption applications granted by the ACCC last year,” said Rod Sims, ACCC chairman.

The ACCC’s Bulk Wheat Ports Monitoring report, which examined the nature and concentration of export activity and capacity allocation across Australia’s bulk wheat port terminals, also found that there was significant spare port terminal capacity available in 2015-16.

“There was an excess of export capacity at many port terminals over the past year, which has provided access seekers with greater opportunities for their export programs,” Sims said. “Access seekers have also benefited from new port developments across the country, with greater competition on price and service across many port zones.”

The ACCC monitors and enforces compliance with the code of conduct, and has a specific role assessing exemption applications made by port terminal service providers from certain obligations in the code. The report follows the granting of exemptions by the ACCC in 2015 to a number of Australian east coast port terminals. Separately, the Minister for Agriculture also granted an exemption to CBH in Western Australia on the basis of its cooperative status.

“This was not a particularly high production or export year, and while stakeholders are reporting that most port terminal operators are demonstrating greater flexibility in their engagement with access seekers, the ACCC is reserving judgement until the system is faced with a bumper harvest,” Sims said. “Therefore the ACCC will not be revisiting the exemption decisions made in 2015 at this stage, but we note that the current harvest is expected to be one of the biggest on record.”

The report also highlights the continuing regional differences in competitive pressures in the bulk wheat export market. Stakeholders reported that access may be more uncertain in those port zones where there is limited port terminal capacity, as well as limited competition or access to alternative markets. In such locations, the Port Terminal Access (Bulk Wheat) Code of Conduct remains an important means by which to facilitate third-party access in a fair and transparent manner. Many of the findings on regional differences reflect conclusions from the ACCC exemption decisions.

The ACCC considered it would be appropriate to undertaking monitoring of bulk wheat port terminal services to continue to assess the level of competition at both exempt and non-exempt facilities in the future.


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