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Glencore scores Australian High Court win over Newcastle port

Australia's High Court has rejected the Port of Newcastle's bid for it to review successive decisions that have supported Glencore Plc's push to have the world's largest coal port regulated amid shipping price hikes.

Glencore hailed the decision upholding previous ones that supported its argument that the port needed a regulator.

"Glencore welcomes the High Court decision, which upholds the Australian Competition Tribunal and Federal Court decisions to declare the shipping channel at the Port of Newcastle," the trading giant said in an emailed statement on March 26.

"This is good news for all [New South Wales] coal exporters as it helps maintain our industry’s international competitiveness and justifies Glencore’s determination to ensure that monopoly export infrastructure is subject to appropriate regulatory constraint."

Glencore initially applied to the National Competition Council, or NCC, in 2015 to have the the shipping channel service at the Port of Newcastle "declared," or regulated, after the port increased shipping fees by up to 60% without, the miner claimed, any change in the nature or quality of service provided.

The federal court's decision in Aug. 2017 paved the way for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, or ACCC, to arbitrate the prices and other terms of access for using channels and berths at the port.

The prices rose after the New South Wales government sold a 98-year lease to Hastings Fund Management and China Merchants Group in 2014 for A$1.75 billion, just 12 months after the then-state Premier Mike Baird agreed to the A$5.1 billion privatization of the state's two other ports at Kembla and Botany.

The NCC declined to have the port declared, so the miner appealed to the Australian Competition Tribunal, which overturned the decision in June 2016.

The port appealed that decision in the Federal Court, which upheld it, so the port then appealed in the High Court, which subsequently led to the March 23 decision.

A spokesperson for the ACCC told S&P Global Market Intelligence that the regulator continued to arbitrate the pricing dispute notified by Glencore Coal Assets Australia Pty. Ltd. in Nov. 2016 in relation to the declared shipping channel service at the Port of Newcastle.

The ACCC will make a determination unless Glencore and Port of Newcastle Operations Pty. Ltd. agree otherwise.