Investigations into supply chains, regional workshops and advocacy will be key parts of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s increased focus on agriculture, ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said today at the ABARES Outlook Conference in Canberra.
Mr Sims said agriculture issues will be a priority for the ACCC, with new Agriculture Commissioner, Mick Keogh, working closely with a dedicated Agriculture Enforcement and Engagement Unit.
“The Unit will allow us to build our internal knowledge around the complexities of agriculture supply chains. This will inform the analysis, and ultimately the decision-making, of the ACCC.”
“The new Unit will focus on investigating potential breaches of the Competition and Consumer Act and, where appropriate, taking enforcement action; increased engagement with the agriculture sector; and advocacy on agriculture issues, including through the use of market studies.”
Mr Sims said the ACCC intends to focus enforcement activities on agricultural supply chains to address anti-competitive conduct or unfair trading practices taking place that breach the Act.
“It is important to understand that the Act guides our enforcement action. What some may perceive to be anti-competitive conduct or unfair trading may not be a breach of the law.”
To help clear up any misunderstandings, Mr Sims said the ACCC is looking to increase engagement with farmers and other agriculture businesses to ensure they are aware of both their rights and obligations under the law.
“Our new Agriculture Unit will enable the ACCC to have a far greater presence in regional Australia…we will hold a series of workshops to speak with farmers and agribusinesses about how competition and fair-trading issues affect them.”
Mr Sims said market studies would form part of the ACCC’s advocacy work in agriculture.
“These studies will enable the ACCC to improve transparency about how a market operates, by shining a light on particular agricultural supply chains and commercial processes which were not previously well known.”
“I believe the ACCC, and the wider community, will gain great insights in relation to the working of agricultural supply chains from these studies,” Mr Sims said.
Mr Sims said the ACCC is no stranger to the farm sector as we interact with agriculture markets across much of our existing work.
He said the ACCC would continue work in regulating water and wheat ports, administering the Horticulture Code of Conduct, assessing mergers and strengthening the position of growers through collective bargaining.
Taking part in the session on ‘increasing efficiencies in supply chains’, Mr Sims said the market structure and regulatory arrangements to be put in place prior to privatisation of the Port of Fremantle should be of importance to all Western Australians, and most particularly, to Western Australian farmers.
“I was very concerned to hear press reports about a possible plan to offer the new owner of the Port of Fremantle the right to develop a new port south of Fremantle in the future,” Mr Sims said.
“As you may be aware, a similar arrangement was entered into over a decade ago in relation to Sydney Airport…this anti-competitive arrangement has curtailed the potential for Sydney to be serviced by two competing airports, to the detriment of passengers and business.”
Mr Sims said governments should use privatisation processes as an opportunity to put in place pro-competitive market structures.
“Failure to do so will come at the cost of an effective ‘tax’ on future generations of farmers, miners and the general community.”