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Australian Trade Minister Supports End To Single Desk

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz has a new high-profile ally in his quest to end the Canadian Wheat Board s (CWB) single desk Australian trade minister Craig Emerson.

The Australian Wheat Board s export monopoly ended in 2008 and Emerson said it has been a great success. The Australian experience has been unambiguously good, he said during a news conference with Ritz following a meeting of the Cairns Group in Saskatoon Sept. 9, which the two ministers co-chaired.

It has been very good for Australian wheat farmers. The productivity commission in Australia did a report and described based on the evidence given by our farmers the transition and I quote remarkably smooth.

However, news ser vices, including Reuters and Bloomberg, reported logistical problems early on as Australian exporters tried to ship more wheat than the ports could handle. Bloomberg reported Oct. 17, 2008 Australian wheat prices were $40 a tonne under U.S. futures prices.

Last March a Reuters report said a number of Australian grain exporters were complaining that the liberalized system had fallen short of expectations…

They said the country s three largest grain handlers and the operators of the main grain ports, GrainCorp Ltd., leading Canadian grain firm Viterra and farmer-owned CBH Group had became regional monopolies dictating the terms of wheat exports.

Emerson said while not every Australian farmer currently supports an open market, most do and no one is calling to restore the single desk. Last year Australia produced a record 26 million tonnes of wheat compared to the 10-year average of 20 million. Australia used to export wheat to 17 countries now it goes to 41, Emerson said.

What that says is there is money to be made in putting your best foot forward for farmers in terms of the services being offered by these wheat marketers, so Gerry, I can highly recommend the experience of Australia in terms of wheat marketing, Emerson said.

A monopoly doesn t necessarily seek to maximize profits, he told Reuters. If you enter a race and you re the only entrant, you re probably not going to run very fast, Emerson said. But if you ve got a red-hot field, it s going to bring out the best in you. So it has been one of the great reforms in Australia and I certainly recommend it to everyone that s listening to this press conference today.

The Cairns Group, made up of 19 countries pushing agricultural free trade, also backs Ottawa s plan.

Canada s supply management policy, which restricts imports of eggs, poultry and dairy products to protect the Canadian farmers, is inconsistent with the Cairns Group s free-trade philosophy, but Emerson declined to comment on it when asked.

I m a guest of Canada and when I come to Canada I don t seek to do anything other than support Canada s aspirations as being a successful exporter onto global markets and so I think the Government of Canada is well capable of making its own judgments and decisions on matters such as these, Emerson said.

But certainly as I indicated in terms of wheat marketing it has been a very great success in Australia and all we can do is encourage the Canadian government in the direction in which it s heading. [email protected]

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TheAustralianexperiencehasbeenunambiguouslygood.IthasbeenverygoodforAustralianwheatfarmers.

CRAIG EMERSON

About the author

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Allan Dawson

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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