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Foreigner wins Botany space; Asciano says three’s a crowd

Hutchinson to break stevedore duopoly in Sydney, but incumbent questions whether market can support

By Jason Whittaker | December 18, 2009

Global ports operator Hutchison Port Holdings has won a tender to set up at Sydney’s Port Botany, breaking the existing stevedore duopoly at its second Australian port.

But already the local container terminal operator has hit out at the decision, suggesting volumes through the port can’t support a third player.

The New South Wales Government announced today Hutchison had won the bidding process to operate new berths as part of a $1 billion expansion of Port Botany.

Hutchison is also preparing to set up at the Port of Brisbane after winning that tender for a third operator in 2007.

Ports and Waterways Minister Paul McLeay says a third stevedore will “increase competitive tension” in the market.

“To be competitive in global trade we need world-class facilities and international operators and that’s what we will have with this massive infrastructure investment,” he says.

“Increased competition will benefit business and the residents of NSW by reducing cargo handling charges for goods that come through the port.”

But Asciano, parent company of stevedore Patrick, says the Government has invested in capacity “well ahead of demand”.

Asciano CEO Mark Rowsthorn doubts Hutchison will move onto the waterfront for at least three more years.

“We expect the third entrant will stage its introduction into Port Botany. Industry sources have indicated that the new operator will not actually enter the market until 2013,” he says.

And he has questioned whether Hutchison’s introduction is being underwritten by the Government’s Sydney Ports Corporation or encouraged with “more favourable conditions” to enter the market.

“It is important for the future viability of all stevedores in Australia that the terms and conditions provided to the third entrant are consistent with those currently in place for existing operators,” he says.

“Asciano will manage its Patrick container ports business appropriately to minimise the impact of a third operator through tight capital management and greater utilisation of existing assets, while maintaining service quality to customers.”

The Port Botany expansion will provide Asciano with an additional berth (400 metres of quay line) and a total of 18 hectares as part of the newly expanded area.

The news came as Port Botany posted its eight consecutive year of record growth, with record monthly highs in October and November.

Container trade grew 0.3 percent in a financial year depleted by the economic crisis, with a 15 percent jump in exports.

Construction on the 63 hectare third terminal began in July 2008. About 400 workers remain on site with more than of the new wharf now built.

The expansion project adds an extra 1,850m of quay line, five new shipping berths, dedicated road and rail access, a secure estuarine environment and a new four-lane boat launching ramp with pontoons and parking for the community.

NSW Premier Kristina Keneally says the new terminal will deliver 9,000 new jobs and boost the State’s economy by $16 billion over the next two decades.

Hutchison operates 300 berths in 49 ports around the world, with interests in 25 countries throughout Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, the Americas and Australia.

Hutchison Port Holdings Group Managing Director John Meredith says Australia is a “major market” and the company is “optimistic” about the future growth of Port Botany.

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