Wheat Export Authority under fire

25 Nov, 1999 12:47 AM
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A STORM has erupted in the grains industry, with private traders alleging the new Wheat Export Authority is so slow in processing applications that business is going to competitor countries. The Authority, created as the independent watchdog for Australian wheat exports as part of the July 1 AWB Ltd privatisation, has also been accused of breaching confidentiality requirements by divulging the names of would-be overseas buyers. The WEA, backed by the Grains Council of Australia, has vigorously defended its performance, arguing that more than 95 per cent of export consent applications are handled within two to five days. While the Authority is required under the legislation to consult with AWB International on wheat export applications, it maintains that these applications are considered in the context of guidelines also set out in the legislation. According to secretariat manager Glen Taylor, the WEA does not divulge the applicant, the customer nor the end use of the wheat, unless this has been agreed to in writing by the applicant. However the WEA has announced an operational review of its guidelines for consideration of applications to export wheat in bulk, containers or bags, with submissions scheduled to close on December 3. GCA president John Lush says there is absolutely no truth in allegations that AWB and the WEA have been "getting together and doing an anti-competitive tango". "The problem with the WEA is that every man and his dog has been flooding it with applications for permits just to try it on," Mr Lush said. "In some cases we know there have been requests lodged where there was no intent to service that market at all. "The WEA has had a big job in front of it. It had to set it up and get its guidelines in place, and yet the industry expected it to be 100 per cent overnight. "Whatever the WEA does, the people who want a permit and don't get one are not going to be happy. "WEA's job is to protect the markets of Australia and make sure that the single desk is used appropriately to service those markets. "There's no doubt that as the WEA gets more efficient at what it does, it'll get the permits through quicker and people will know where they stand a bit quicker, and everybody will be a bit happier. "But there's a lot of people in Australia want to break down the single desk for their own benefit and they'll use whatever argument they can find to do that." However, National Agricultural Commodities Marketing Association (NACMA) secretary Bryce Bell says that members of that organisation, particularly in WA and South Australia, are complaining of delays of five to 10 days in the granting of wheat export permits. "They reckon a week's a long time in parliament, but the WEA just does not understand that five to 10 days is a decade in trading," Mr Bell said. "You need to be able to respond immediately. I must add that the WEA has been very co-operative, and that it's only been going four to five months and is on a very steep learning curve. "I think it is trying, but it's not coping at the moment. And if something's brought in, then it has to be operational from Day 1." According to Mr Bell, despite WEA assurances of confidentiality, "parties are approaching the buyer on the permit form, trying to get in on the business". He is also somewhat sceptical of the WEA's internal operations review: "It's the same thing as 2UE having an inquiry into their own people." Grain Industry Association of Victoria secretary Brian Bailey says his organisation has met with WEA representatives to express its dissatisfaction with the lengthy processing of export applications. "With the new system, the slippage from two days to five days is just not acceptable," Mr Bailey said. "In today's contemporary commercial environment, you can't have a bid open on the table for five days. "The grain trade doesn't work that way. It'll go to another country, and in fact has gone to other countries." ÿ

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