VITERRA plans to hold three auctions for grain traders to book shipping slots for ship loading at its six South Australia ports.The auctions are part of a new system for export of grain developed by Viterra as part of its port terminal access undertakings to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
Booking of shipping slots around Australia has been a controversial issue since deregulation of the wheat industry.
Federal authorities have recognised that bulk handlers with port terminals have regional monopolies which, if left unregulated, could be see anti-competitive activity limit exports.
The bulk handlers been required to develop voluntary arrangements to allow fair access to ship loading capacity.
Viterra's grain executive manager Dean McQueen said feedback from the industry had guided the development of its proposed auction system.
"We have been cognisant of the need to meet the ACCC requirements while at the same time delivering a system that will work commercially,'' Mr McQueen said.
Last year, more than 8.4 million tonnes of grain was exported through SA's ports – a record for the state.
Under the proposed auction system, grain traders will be able to bid for ship loading tonnages in 14-16 day shipping slots, representing the first or second half of any month.
A single auction for ship loading during the harvest period – October 1 to January 31 – will be held each August.
There will be two auctions for the non-harvest period which will be held four weeks apart in the November-December period.
Viterra said holding later auctions for the February to September non-harvest period would allow grain traders to assess the crop size and their requirements prior to bidding.
Former Elders Toepfer Grain managing director Mark Thiele criticised Viterra last February for allowing 4.5 million tonnes of shipping capacity to be booked for the 2011-12 export season without a single seed being planted in the ground.
Criticisms also developed of traders relinquishing bookings just prior to ship loading, making it impossible for other exporters to take up available slots in a tight loading program offered by bulk handlers.