Demand at Australia’s major ports is forecast to almost triple during the next two decades, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said in its latest annual container stevedoring report issued today.

If Australia is to meet the predicted boom in trade, competition is needed to encourage stevedores to invest in terminals and make the best use of existing facilities.

"The challenge we face as a nation is to improve productivity, to underpin Australia's economic performance," ACCC chairman Graeme Samuel said. "Competition is important for driving the stevedoring industry to invest in new capacity and use existing infrastructure to move containers on and off ships faster and in ever-increasing numbers."

The ACCC found that stevedores' profits increased in 2009–10, but this was largely due to improved economic conditions. Some measures of capital productivity have not increased since June 2001.

Decisions to allow a third stevedore to invest in additional capacity at the ports of Brisbane and Sydney have already been taken. This will mean a new competitor is introduced in those ports from 2012. Melbourne is yet to decide on how it will meet the increasing demand.

Container stevedoring involves the lifting of shipping containers on and off ships. The ACCC monitors prices, costs and profits of container stevedores at the major Australian container ports. DP World and Patrick operate at the four largest ports—Brisbane, Fremantle, Melbourne and Sydney. A third stevedore, Hutchison Port Holdings, will commence operations in Brisbane and Sydney in 2012. The ACCC also monitors two, single operator container terminals at the lower volume ports of Adelaide and Burnie.