ACCC swings spotlight on foreign miller
THE Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has announced it is investigating Wilmar Sugar, after Federal Member for Dawson George Christensen wrote to it with claims about the company's "unconscionable", "anticompetitive" behaviour.
It followed his announcement last month that he would seek advice on whether or not Wilmar had breached any of the Foreign Investment Review Board conditions of it investing in Australia.
After looking into it, Mr Christensen has decided "not to pursue that avenue any further" as the conditions were not as broad as anticipated.
However, his attention switched to the ACCC.
This week he made a speech to Parliament where, under the protection of parliamentary privilege, he claimed Wilmar was not acting in the spirit of legislation introduced by the state government to guarantee growers choice in how their sugar is marketed.
A spokesman for ACCC later confirmed it was "currently investigating issues arising from negotiations between Wilmar Sugar Australia Limited and sugar cane growers , to determine whether there may be any contravention of the Competition and Consumer Act, and if so what action ought be taken".
Ever since the legislation was introduced Wilmar's growers, current sugar marketer QSL and Wilmar have attempted to negotiate the terms of an agreement to allow growers to elect an alternative sugar marketer after Wilmar mills their sugar.
After months of unsuccessful talks, Burdekin cane growers and Wilmar are likely to enter into arbitration, which may take 12-18 months to resolve.
Mackay Canegrowers chairman Kevin Borg said if no progress was made, Sarina and Proserpine region growers could end up following the move.
"Arbitration, it's like going to court. We would sooner negotiate an outcome," Mr Borg said. "But it's proving virtually impossible."
He said the organisation would continue to call for a meeting between Canegrowers, QSL and Wilmar.
Following the news the ACCC would investigate, a Wilmar spokesman said it "confidently expected any complaints to be found baseless".
"Wilmar has acted in an appropriate and commercially responsible manner in its negotiations with growers and their agents on cane supply agreements for 2017-2019," he said. "We would co-operate fully with the ACCC and we would confidently expect any complaints to be found baseless."
He confirmed Burdekin growers had notified Wilmar of an intention to proceed to arbitration if an agreement is not reached.