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Shippers heavy ports

By Graeme Kennedy

Friday 14th March 2003

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Shipping Federation lobby group Captive Port Customers (CPC) is continuing its campaign for lower port pricing, despite the government deciding there was no case to answer.

The government-commissioned Charles River study into port competitiveness made no recommendation that the issue to go the Commerce Commission but federation manager Paul Nicholas said problems still existed for the shipping industry.

"Nothing has changed. CPC will continue to monitor ports, identify examples of them exercising monopoly power and report them to the minister," Mr Nicholas said.

"The government has said that the port owners, mostly local and regional councils, could continue with their pricing policy until it starts impacting on councils' infrastructure and the local economy where job losses could be involved.

"That means they can continue raping and pillaging until the pricing regimes force local industry to move out.

"We are disappointed no action was taken but still convinced we had a good case for a Commerce Commission investigation.

"The River report actually supported our case when it said there were instances of monopoly pricing ­ but this is an issue with no votes in it for the government.

"The problem is that we have been dealing with a monopoly which doesn't have to listen or negotiate."

Mr Nicholas said ports were well aware of CPC's existence as a group and that it was not afraid to lobby against pricing. Some ports now realised there had been a problem and that after the public debate and River review a change was needed ­ "we are detecting a softening in some areas," he said.

Mr Nicholas said the coastal trade had been static for some years and now consisted of Pacifica's four Auckland-Dunedin ships, three cement carriers, two oil tankers and six interisland ferries and passenger-cargo ships.

He said that while struggling against port pricing and international vessels which now carry along 10% of coastal cargoes they were facing another threat ­ this time from the Land Transport Management Bill.

"We have a shipping fleet dedicated to the coastal trade but the bill suggests barges receive Land Transport Infrastructure funding to set up in competition," he said.

"The government has done nothing to advance or protect coastal shipping, which is environmentally friendly and with the lowest dollar per tonne is the most cost-effective means of transport.

"Yet they see barging as being more flexible ­ a regional council could get money from the fund to set up a local operation but it is unclear in the Bill whether barging would be local or be allowed to operate New Zealand-wide.

"The federation is making submissions to fund coastal shipping and limit barging."

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