Wednesday 20th Feb, 2019

Wilmar, QSL end lengthy sugar stalemate

Katter's Australian Party member Shane Knuth is pushing for re-regulation of the Queensland sugar sector. Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

North Queensland cane growers will make the most of an on-supply arrangement signed between Queensland Sugar Limited and miller Wilmar Sugar, but have likely missed out on a period of high prices because of the sides’ lengthy dispute.

QSL, representing cane growers in Queensland’s far north, has been at odds with Wilmar, an Asian agribusiness which owns eight mills in the region, over the latter’s 2014 move to sell all the sugar it crushed through its own marketing business – a decision growers argue can only see them paid less for their crops.

Legislation passed in Queensland Parliament in 2015 means growers are now able to choose their own sugar marketer.

But after other millers signed deals with QSL, a stalemate emerged late last year between the growers representative and Wilmar, over the details of their own on-supply deal.

Politicians were at odds over how to manage the dispute, which threatened to derail as much as $1 billion in sugar exports. Queensland’s Labor Government opted for mediation, while the LNP Opposition attempted to force a Bill to put the sides into arbitration. Even Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce weighed in, imploring sides to come to terms to avoid serious Government intervention.

In the end the sides reached an agreement through mediation, a result state agriculture minister Bill Byrne said proved the Palaszczuk Government was right all along.

“Our consistent position has been that the industry should resolve its disputes through commercial negotiation,” Byrne said on May 22. “The legislation [the Opposition] introduced is an embarrassment to the LNP and they should apologise to all those involved in the industry for their recklessness.”

Regardless of how the dispute came to an end, growers are now concerned they may have missed out on some of the highest sugar prices in recent memory due to the delay.

“We’re finally there with only a couple of weeks left before the crushing starts,” Canegrowers Burdekin director Phil Marano was quoted by the ABC. “Unfortunately it’s taken so long that growers have missed out on being able to lock in some record high prices, but we’re pretty happy that it’s all done.”