THE Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has approved GrainCorp's plans to for long term agreements with exporters wanting space at its seven port terminals.
The green light opens the door to potentially big efficiency gains in ship loading operations, replacing the year-by-year contracts which exporters bid for.
It also gives GrainCorp the chance to lock in $8 a tonne "take or pay" commitments from exporters for up to three years for as much as 60 per cent of port capacity, smoothing out port earnings regardless of whether the season delivers an average or poor yielding crop.
The big grain trader, handler and processor has a similar "take or pay" contracts locked in for rail freight movement of its own grain using Pacific National and QR National train sets.
GrainCorp says the port deal is a good news breakthrough for the whole industry which will substantially improve the flexibility and international competitiveness of its bulk grain port facilities and expand grain accumulation and export planning horizon for exporters.
Long term booking schedules would enable exporters to make long term delivery commitments to customers, potentially leading to more sales and competition for Australian grain.
GrainCorp also expected that giving exporters and their customers more export certainty would also drive investment in expanding the capacity of trains delivering grain to port.
Long term arrangements will be offered under revised port terminal services protocols from February.
More efficient throughput is a key plank in GrainCorp's strategy to achieve a $110 million incremental lift in earnings before interest tax depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) by 2016-17.
Canberra's enactment of the Wheat Export Marketing Amendment Bill this week, providing for an industry code of conduct to replace the existing port arrangements from 2015, also promised to help streamline port operations.
GrainCorp managing director Alison Watkins said the developments were a significant step forward for the eastern Australian grain industry, where GrainCorp operates.
"GrainCorp's revised port protocols will make grain in our network more internationally competitive," she said.
"They allow longer term planning by exporters and far more flexible port operations and have benefits across the industry.
"Our exporters can plan and respond more effectively to
the increasingly dynamic international market, while growers get more competition for their grain, particularly from overseas."
Ms Watkins said major customers in Asia and the Middle East would enjoy more certainty about reliable supplies of high quality Australian grain.
The revised port protocols also reduced the substantial supply chain costs by minimising port block-outs by ships and related transport cancellations.
Ms Watkins acknowledged the "constructive approach taken by the ACCC and our exporter customers to the discussions of our revised port protocols".
"Their desire to deliver improvements in the best interests of the whole industry ensured a good outcome for all parties," she said.