Growcom scare campaign calculated to ‘drive wedge between growers and Market wholesalers’

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Fresh Markets Australia

MEDIA RELEASE
14 July 2016

Growcom scare campaign calculated to ‘drive wedge between growers and Market wholesalers’
Fresh Markets Australia is outraged that false claims being made by rural lobby group Growcom appear deliberately calculated to drive a wedge between producers and Market wholesalers.
A recent statement by Growcom in relation to a meeting held by Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Agriculture Commissioner Mick Keogh with a small group of Bundaberg vegetable growers alleging that there were widespread issues between the two groups.
Fresh Markets Australia’s Executive Director, Andrew Young, said he was “extremely concerned” by Growcom’s ongoing campaign to undermine the overwhelmingly co-operative relationship between wholesalers and growers, and has contacted Mr Keogh to repudiate the lobby group’s allegations in the strongest terms.
“In an industry as large as horticulture there will be commercial disputes between parties from time to time, but Growcom’s claims that these issues are systemic are false and counter-productive to a collaborative, strong, profitable industry,” Mr Young said.
“The horticulture industry is actually noted for its extremely low level of commercial disputes.
“FMA and Government figures show that, over the past five years, the Horticulture Mediation Advisor managed just 12 mediations and the ACCC received just 35 complaints from growers. This is out of in excess of 60 million transactions conducted across the six central markets, over that five year period. We are talking about over 15,000 growers doing business with over 400 wholesalers in an industry with seasonal production, and fluctuating supply and demand.”
Mr Young said there were “quite powerful” protections for growers who have an issue with a wholesaler, as well as mechanisms for these disputes to be independently investigated, and if possible, resolved.
“The FMA would strongly encourage growers who believe they have not been fairly treated to communicate promptly with their wholesaler, in the first instance, and submit a complaint to the relevant State Chamber of Fruit and Vegetable Wholesalers, which are all FMA members,” he said.
“If the matter remains unresolved, they should complain promptly to the Horticulture Mediation Advisor appointed under the Code. If that process fails, they can speak to the ACCC or pursue their own legal action.”
Mr Young questioned why Growcom had allowed the Bundaberg incident to drag on for more than a year before raising any concerns – and then doing so via a media statement.
“If Growcom is concerned about these growers, where has it been for the past 18 months?” he said.
“Taking prompt action, and not letting disputes drag on for months or years, is the key to successful resolution.
“This is basic advice that Growcom should be providing to growers.”
Mr Young said that Fresh Markets Australia expected all parties — growers, wholesalers, and retailers — to follow good commercial practice when transacting business in the Central Markets.
“Our experience is that this is overwhelmingly the case,” he said.
“The vast majority of the more than 400 central markets wholesalers — most of them family-owned small businesses that have been involved in the industry for generations — have trusting, productive relationships with growers built over many years.”

Mr Young said FMA fully supported the use of documented terms of trade for all transactions conducted within a process that is commercial and reflects the prevailing market conditions.
“This is one of the issues about which FMA is engaging with the Government and grower groups to resolve,” he said.
“FMA made a number of submissions to the Independent Review of the Horticulture Code of Conduct with the intent of creating a system that is practical, commercially viable and fair for all. This included specific recommendations regarding amendments to the existing Code to make it workable, and these recommendations have now been on the public record for 10 months.
“We look forward to continuing that dialogue when the Government formally seeks feedback on the 13 recommendations of the Independent Review.
“We have already informed the responsible Ministers and other industry stakeholders that FMA broadly supports 10 of the 13 recommendations and is confident that a truly collaborative effort by all parts of the supply chain will result in regulators that are effective, workable and fair.
“In particular, we endorse absolutely the panel’s comment that ‘…the Horticulture Code is not intended to substitute good business behaviours, conduct and practices, but rather to support these disciplines through simple, but effective regulation’.”
– ENDS –

For further information, please contact:
Andrew Young, Executive Director, on 07 3915 4200 or 0438 388 411
FMA is the national industry body representing wholesalers and supporting businesses in Australia’s six central
wholesale fruit and vegetable markets.

Note: The Horticulture Code was established in 2007 to regulate trade in horticulture produce between growers
and traders of fresh fruit and vegetables and to provide an alternative dispute resolution procedure. The
Horticulture Code is a prescribed, mandatory industry code under the Competition and Consumer Act 2010. The
code came into operation with the aim of improving the clarity and transparency in transactions between
horticulture growers and traders and to provide some standard procedures and mandatory requirements in the
trading relationship.

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