THE AUSTRALIAN Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC) has hit out at grain bulk handlers port operators about their access regimes, in particular in relation to other exporters getting access to upcountry storages, which is not necessarily covered under the port access code.
In its annual bulk grain ports monitoring report the ACCC said there were issues both at port and upcountry.
The report looks at the performance of the nation’s leading bulk handlers and how they comply with the port access code, imposed in order to ensure all exporters fair access.
In this report the ACCC found that while exporters could typically access some port capacity, many remained concerned about fairness and transparency of the allocation of port access.
“Even though many port terminals had excess port capacity in a year of lower production, exporters were still worried about the quality and fairness of port access.
“In particular, they were concerned about their limited ability to negotiate terms with more dominant providers,” ACCC deputy chair Mick Keogh said.
Overall he said the ACCC heard more concerns from growers and exporters about upcountry access issues such as grain storage and handling services and transportation, than about issues related to port access.
“We’re troubled that some exporters and growers are still reporting issues in their dealings with service providers at port and along related supply chains,” Mr Keogh said.
“Many of these upcountry supply chain issues are not directly addressed under the existing code.
“The ACCC considers upcountry access issues may be more appropriately dealt with through industry-led reform, or through a market inquiry such as the one currently being sought by growers.”
The report notes that outcomes are quite varied between different markets.
“The level of competition in bulk grain port services varies significantly between regions. Some areas have multiple service providers, while other areas remain serviced by vertically integrated near monopolies, particularly in Western Australia and South Australia.
“Users seem to get very different results in different regions,” Mr Keogh said.
"The ACCC considers that an appropriately targeted grains code is vital for ensuring port terminal access for all exporters on a fair and transparent basis.”
“Grain markets in eastern Australia are clearly competitive, up-country and through export channels,” said Angus Trigg, GrainCorp corporate affairs manager.
“Bulk exports are constrained by demand from the large domestic market and container exports.
“We are proud of our track record as an open access provider of port services for exporters wishing to use our infrastructure.
The other two major bulk handlers Viterra and CBH have been contacted for comment.