The Australian Agriculture Minister, Peter McGauran, and the Australian Treasurer, Peter Costello, have both made recent statements in the Australian media suggesting that the Australian Wheat Board (AWB) monopoly is in jeopardy.

Currently, AWB can veto applications by other companies for bulk overseas wheat sales. However, the company is facing a public inquiry headed by former judge Terrence Cole into alleged kickbacks of US$221.7m paid to Saddam Hussein’s regime.

AWB’s control of wheat export has been a major sticking point in trade negotiations with the US, who view Australia’s restrictive sales process as a market distortion.

The controversy surrounding the Cole Inquiry has raised questions about AWB’s considerable export powers. “You’re not going to have exactly the same situation that existed before the Cole Inquiry commenced to what will exist after it,” McGauran said.