TRADE Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile has not ruled out the possibility of removing the single wheat export desk from AWB Ltd in the wake of the oil-for-food (OFF) scandal.
But Mr Vaile said the government would not prejudge AWB Ltd, as the Independent Inquiry Committee (IIC) investigation into the UN-run OFF program found the wheat marketer did not knowingly pay kickbacks to the former Iraqi regime.
He said he would also wait for the Australian commission of inquiry ‹ established to find out if Australian companies involved in the OFF program had breached State, Territory and Commonwealth laws ‹ to run its course.
"We will wait to see at the end of the commission of inquiry," Mr Vaile said.
"There have been lots of assertions and allegations flying around the commercial world and you wouldn't expect anything less in a commercial world.
"We will wait and see what the commission of inquiry finds with regards to AWB and we are not going to pre-judge this at all."
However, the notion of changing the single desk system has not been dismissed. Speaking at a National Party press conference in Perth, Mr Vaile said there were other options to export wheat outside the single desk managed by AWBL.
"As far as the single desk is concerned, it is a power that is delivered to AWB," Mr Vaile said.
"But there is another body that issues export licences and it is called the Wheat Export Authority; and that's the body which has the power to issue other wheat export licences, as it should.
"If other businesses want to export grain out of Australia, particularly wheat, they need to apply to the WEA."
Mr Vaile said he was unaware if Co-operative Bulk Handling (CBH) had applied to run the wheat export single desk, but he confirmed it had applied for WEA licences to export wheat.
He said the matter of AWBL's involvement in the OFF program was a separate issue from management of the single wheat export desk.
Mr Vaile said a structured and regular review process was in place for the single desk, with the next review scheduled for 2010.
He said the single desk served as a balance against a global commodities market distorted by agricultural subsidies.
Mr Vaile said Australia did not provide export subsidies for its agricultural commodities and its farmers would benefit greatly from other countries dropping theirs.
"An ABARE analysis indicates that if we can remove a lot of the distortions in global trade it could mean up to a $26,000 a week farm benefit to Australian wheat growers," he said.
Mr Vaile said while a current US offer to cut tariffs by an average of 75pc was a good outcome, the Australian Government would like to see more cuts on farm subsidies.
"But certainly the offer they have on the table at the moment of 60pc cut to domestic support is quite significant and we have not seen that before in terms of any multi-lateral negotiations," he said.
"What we need to see is the same level of ambition being offered by the EU and the G10, Japan, Korea and others, and market access to lift their offer above what it is at the moment about a 40pc cut in tariffs."