Canada, Australia, and New Zealand:

Potential Ability of Agricultural State Trading Enterprises to Distort Trade

NSIAD-96-94: Published: Jun 24, 1996. Publicly Released: Jun 24, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed three state trading enterprises (STE), the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB), the Australian Wheat Board (AWB), and the New Zealand Dairy Board (NZDB) focusing on: (1) the potential capability of export-oriented agricultural STEse to distort trade; and (2) the specific potential capability of CWB, AWB, and NZDB to engage in trade-distorting activities based on their status as STEs.

GAO found that: (1) it is necessary to consider STEs on a case-by-case basis to understand their potential to distort trade; and (2) the three STEs reviewed have varying capabilities to potentially distort trade in their respective commodities, although in each case these capabilities have generally been reduced over recent years due to lower levels of government assistance. CWB benefits from: (1) the Canadian government's subsidies to cover CWB's periodic operational deficits, (2) monopoly over both the domestic human consumption and export wheat and barley markets which may allow for cross-subsidization, and (3) pricing flexibility through delayed producer payments. Canada's elimination of transportation subsidies in 1995 has reduced some of the indirect government support going to its wheat and barley producers, and ongoing Canadian reviews of its agricultural policies may reduce the control of CWB in the future. AWB has not received direct government subsidies in several years but enjoys a government guarantee on its payments to producers. It also enjoys indirect subsidies in the form of favorable interest rates and an authority to collect from producers for investment. The deregulation of Australia's domestic grain trade and the decline of direct government assistance have lessened the possibile trade-distorting policies of AWB. Recent studies have challenged the premise behind a single selling authority, but AWB's monopoly over wheat exports still provides it with a sure source of supply. NZDB is relatively subsidy free but benefits from its monopoly over New Zealand dairy exports and its extensive subsidiary structure worldwide. NZDB's size and exclusive purchasing authority for export also translate into market power for NZDB in certain world dairy markets. Its subsidiaries allow it to keep profits from foreign sales within the organization and take advantage of the difference between world prices and those of the country in which it is selling the goods, such as the United States. NZDB's potential to distort trade due to direct government subsidies was eliminated during the 1980s when New Zealand deregulated the domestic dairy market and stopped offering dairy farmers direct government subsidies.

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