Newcastle Port reform runs aground

The plan to expand Newcastle Port’s coal export capacity has stalled after NCIG failed to sign off on an agreement to carve up access to the port by the 31 August deadline.

The plan to expand Newcastle Port’s coal export capacity has stalled after the Newcastle Coal Infrastructure Group (NCIG) failed to sign off on an agreement to carve up access to the port by the 31 August deadline.

NCIG, Port Waratah Coal Services (PWCS) and the New South Wales Government have been in developing plans for the port reform for the last six months. Both the PWCS and the Government signed the agreement before the deadline expired.

The Australian Consumer and Competition Commission, which set the cut-off, has now revoked an interim authorisation for the parties to execute the plan

When contacted by MINING DAILY, a spokesperson for the NCIG confirmed that the Group had not signed, but did not reveal when an official statement would be made.

According to a statement, PWCS is now considering its position in relation to long-term Hunter Valley coal export reform.

PWCS general manager Graham Davidson said it was disappointing the agreement had not been reached.

“PWCS signed to the plan in good faith, continuing a spirit of cooperation shown throughout the entire negotiation period,” he said.

“We were in position to implement the plan from 1 January 2010.

“There is still enormous scope to make progress with the NSW Government and this is where PWCS’ efforts will now be focussed.”

The PWCS estimates that 41 vessels are currently queued along the NSW coast awaiting access to the port.

NSW Ports and Waterways Minister Joe Tripodi said it was disappointing that one producer was holding out on a solution that all other coal producers had accepted as “necessary for the future of the Hunter coal industry.”

“We remain hopeful all producers will see the merits of an industry-wide solution to secure coal loading capacity for the next decade and beyond,” he said.

“Our preference has been, and remains, for an industry-wide agreement and we have spent two years working with industry to develop this.

“A bilateral agreement was always an option for the Government and this may become necessary following Tuesday’s developments.

“It has been avoided until now.”

The Herald Sun reports that NCIG major shareholder BHP Billiton is committed to solving the port’s problems.

“BHP Billiton continues to seek to engage with the NSW government to secure a resolution around a small number of critical issues,” BHP said in a statement yesterday.

“We believe that an industry-supported solution is possible and can be achieved.”

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