5 Jan 2012

Port of Napier seeking Fonterra business for two years

6:40 pm on 5 January 2012

Port of Napier says it has been talking to Fonterra for two years to negotiate a deal to take on some of its shipping business.

Fonterra, which is the country's biggest exporter says, from the end of this month, all its shipments overseas will go to the ports in Tauranga and Napier due to ongoing industrial action at the Port of Auckland.

Ports of Auckland and members of the Maritime Union have been at loggerheads over contract negotiations for months.

The dairy co-operative currently ships $27 million worth of cargo a week through Auckland and the Port of Napier says it is currently in discussions with Fonterra about what proportion of that will head its way.

However, services manager for the Port of Napier, Bruce Lochhead, says it began negotiating a deal with Fonterra well before the industrial dispute at Auckland began.

"We've been working for a couple of years now - and included in that group is KiwiRail and the shipping lines carrying Fonterra products out of New Zealand - to ensure an increased share of their business with some success, some good success, over the past couple of years," Mr Lochhead says.

He hopes the Fonterra move of some of its exports to Napier will be a permanent one.

Tauranga expects boom time

Port of Tauranga says it is looking forward to a boom in business.

Chief executive Mark Cairns says the company has been working with Fonterra to determine how many extra containers will be going through the port.

Shane Solly, an investment manager at Mint Asset Management, believes Fonterra's decision will be good for other ports, including Tauranga.

Mr Solly says the Port of Tauranga has been working hard for decades to attract more business and this is a good opportunity.

Up to management and union to sort out industrial dispute

Ports of Auckland is owned by Auckland Council Investments Ltd, a council-controlled investment company.

Auckland Council Investment says it is losing dividends over the industrial action. However, chief executive Gary Swift says it is a matter for port management and the Maritime Union to sort out.

The Government has not said whether it will intervene in the ongoing industrial dispute which has cost Ports of Auckland millions of dollars.

Mr Swift says no contact has been made with Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce to see whether the Government could intervene.

A spokesperson for Mr Joyce says he could not comment on the situation as the minister could not be reached on Thursday.

Radio New Zealand also contacted spokespeople for the Transport Minister and the on-duty minister, but they were also not available for comment on Thursday.

The Small Business Minister John Banks said it was a matter being dealt with by Mr Joyce.

On Wednesday, Ports of Auckland blamed the union for Fonterra's move - but the union rejected that, saying Fonterra made its decision a long time ago.

Ports of Auckland chief executive Tony Gibson says the company has made a generous offer to union members, but they are yet to respond.

Council urged to act

The head of the Citizens and Ratepayers political party on the Auckland Council, Christine Fletcher, says the council must publicly back the Ports of Auckland board.

Mayor Len Brown is urging Ports of Auckland and the union to get back to the negotiating table, but says he will not comment further because "a war of words" will not do anything to settle the dispute.

However, Christine Fletcher told Radio New Zealand's Summer Report programme on Thursday there will be catastrophic consequences if more businesses decide they cannot rely on Ports of Auckland.

Ms Fletcher says the council needs to get behind the company's board and support its decisions.

Auckland councillor George Wood says the port's yearly dividend to the council will decrease - money the council relies on. He says if the situation does not improve, the city's governing body could intervene.