AWB predictably used its veto to block CBH’s well-publicised attempt to export wheat to its flour mills in south-east Asia. And that has predictably been seized on by the Liberal Party critics of the single desk export monopoly, this time lead by Senator Jeannie Ferris, chair of the coalition’s backbench committee on agriculture.

But, much less predictably, it’s been largely overlooked that AWB also blackballed an attempt by the Wheat Australia consortium to sell 500,000 tonnes of wheat to Iraq next year. That’d be the Iraq that won’t trade with AWB, the country AWB conspired to rip-off in the Tigris deal, among other things.

The two million tonne CBH application has been stealing the headlines by offering WA farmers more for their drought-reduced crop than AWB is paying thanks to the cost of its hedge book and long term contracts. It’s been a simplistic fight with a dollar sign in front of it, something farmers and politicians understand.

But AWB used its power of veto to block 11 other export applications, including the Iraq trade. Wheat Australia is the consortium of ABB, GrainCorp and CBH formed to try to continue Australia-Iraq trade when AWB was banned. It managed to sell 350,000 tonnes to Iraq earlier this year after the Federal Government used some muscle on AWB.

Wheat Australia says Australia could lose the Iraqi market altogether:

Through no fault of their own, Australian wheat growers may now not be able to supply this sizeable market and be forced to stand back and watch as Canadian and US wheat producers meet Iraq’s wheat import needs.

Given the politics of losing the Iraq market, one might wonder just how desperate AWB’s national pool is this year. Or maybe with Terence Cole due to report at the end of this month, the AWB blackballers just wanted to enjoy the sense of power one last time.

Peter Fray

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