Australian grain growers fight to save single desk

By Boyd Champness

AUSTRALIAN grain growers and marketers are lining up to defend Australias single-desk marketing arrangements for export wheat.

Since the year dot, the Australian Wheat Board has had the exclusive right to sell and market Australian wheat abroad.

Although the domestic market was deregulated at the start of this decade, Australias entire export crop must pass through AWB hands.

The AWB recently underwent a major restructure – its now called AWB Limited – and growers fear the Federal Government will try to abolish the current marketing arrangements when single desk comes up for review at the end of this year or early next year under the National Competition Policy rules.

If it survives that scrutiny the single desk arrangement will come up for review again in 2004, according to The Weekly Times.

Successful lobbying by grain growers now means an Act of Parliament must be passed before the single desk arrangement can be abolished.

Grains Council of Australia (GCA) president John Lush told the paper that farmers were sick and tired of continually having to defend the marketing arrangement.

“I find it frustrating the grains council, along with our state affiliates and grain marketers, have to spend scarce resources in repeatedly defending single desk powers when, to us, it is self-evident these powers provide a benefit not only to growers but also the Australian community,” Mr Lush said.

“After the exhaustive process we undertook to restructure the AWB, it would be foolish for us to throw this work away by losing the single desk powers for wheat.”

Australian agricultural leaders argue that the single desk arrangement has been a useful tool amid the onslaught of world subsidies over the past 20-30 years.

Unlike many grain traders, AWB Limited can guarantee the quality of its grain because its involved in the process from farmgate to ship.

It also has the ability to undercut some of its competitors because it can offer potential buyers such large quantities of grain. In addition, some countries prefer to deal with a single government body than a throng of international grain traders.

However, many of Australias competitors argue that the single desk marketing arrangement is a disguised form of subsidy and should be dismantled.

But GCA wheat committee chairman Xavier Martin scoffed at this idea.

“I make no apology for, on one hand, urging cutbacks in northern hemisphere protection while on the other urging for the maintenance of the single desk,” he told The Weekly Times.

“Australia is light years ahead of its competitors in North America and Europe in taking government out of the grain industry. We would be absolutely crazy to abandon our single desk while our competitors maintain the infrastructure to turn subsidies on and off like a tap,” he added.

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