Graingrowers warned over FTA

28 Jan, 2004 10:00 PM
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WHILE an Australian delegation discusses a free trade agreement in Washington this week, WAFarmers

has warned Australian farmers to take heed of the problems that Canada faced under such a regime.

WAFarmers grains spokesman Peter Wahlsten said the Canadian farm crisis should be "enough proof" for Australian farmers.

Mr Wahlsten said 14 years of free trade hell and a reduction in grower involvement in the industry, resulted in the net Canadian farm income falling by 24pc and farm debt doubling.

The transfer of agricultural market power to multi-national companies in Canada's free trade agreement caused farmers to lose ownership and control of the industry, he said.

"National Farmers Union Canada research is showing this, and that's a very ominous warning to Australian graingrowers," he said.

Mr Wahlsten said the essential link growers, grain handlers, marketers and consumers enjoyed under single desk kept farmers from being overrun by multinationals.

He conceded a free trade agreement with the US could have some advantages for other commodities.

"But as far as single desk export marketing of Australian wheat goes, we will not have that on the table as a bargaining chip for other free trade arrangements," Mr Wahlsten said.

"It is non-negotiable, it is not trade-distorted and we will not have it in any free trade agreement.

"We have to be able to market grain as we do. We're not subsidised like the US and other countries."

Mr Wahlsten said the key was for growers to remain in ownership of Co-operative Bulk Handling and the Grain Pool.

"The grower has a direct link through the parent company CBH and the Grain Pool in the whole supply chain, right through to the consumer, value adder and retailer," he said.

"Profits made in the supply chain will come back as benefits to the growers with the flow-back into CBH and the pool, and then passed on to their grower owners."

Mr Wahlsten believed the single desk powers of AWB Ltd, like the CWB, did not put grain growers at a service or cost disadvantage.

"The CWB have figures which say that their actions are worth $15 extra to growers in the sale of their grain in export markets," he said.

Mr Wahlsten said a recent Wheat Export Authority performance report on AWBI showed Australian growers received approximately $14.30/tonne extra on top of their pool payments.

"So there are financial benefits that are tabulated, and they are coming to the growers in the current system we have," he said.

A two-way loyalty existed between growers and AWB, Mr Wahlsten said, and grower concerns over pricing and service were being addressed.

"The growers will support them because they're getting the best price and the best service," Mr Wahlsten said.

"But it will require loyalty back from CBH and AWB, to see that they do not overcharge.

"We have been negotiating with AWB to improve some areas of performance and charges, and this is ongoing, there will be more of this.

"And we will be taking that further, through the Grains Council of WA.

"It is in the interest of AWB and CBH that they provide the best service and the best price to growers, to keep their business."

Mr Wahlsten said Federal Trade Minister Mark Vaile had told Australian farmers the single desk would not be on the table during any FTA discussions. But US trade representative Robert Zoellick was still trying to incorporate it in the talks.

"I believe there would be an enormous number of growers go out of business if we didn't have a single desk export marketing system," Mr Wahlsten said.

"We're making no bones about it, it's hands off single desk."

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