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Floods take economic toll on Queensland

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Staff Writers
Brisbane, Australia (UPI) Jan 4, 2011
The long-term effect of Australia's flooding will be "significant" on the economy, a Queensland official said.

Across northeastern Australia, at least 200,000 people have been affected torrential rains and floods, covering 386,000 square miles -- an area about the size of France and Germany combined.

State Treasurer Andrew Fraser of Queensland, Australia's worst-hit state, estimates damage from the floods "will run into billions -- not millions -- of dollars," the BBC quoted him as saying Tuesday.

BHP Billiton Ltd., the world's biggest coking-coal producer, Rio Tinto PLC, Anglo American PLC and Peabody Energy Corp. are among mine companies that have declared force majeure on their Queensland coalfields. This clause allows a miner to miss contracted deliveries because of conditions beyond the company's control.

"It's going to be hard work to get back into full production," Michael Roche, chief executive of the Queensland Resources Council, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Tuesday, noting that the damage to the state's coal industry has already reached about $1 billion.

"Mines have a lot of water to deal with and so we'll be talking to the Queensland government about some practical measures to safely get rid of excess water."

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh, pointing out that her state supplies half of the world's coking coal needed in steel manufacture, told ABC that coal mining companies "will have a long, slow climb back to full production."

Steel trader Stemcor predicted the floods could drive the price of coking coal up about 30 percent over the next few months to $330 a metric ton, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Queensland's agriculture sector is also severely affected by the floods.

"A significant proportion of wheat has been destroyed," Wayne Newton, president of Agforce, a Queensland farmer's lobby group, told the BBC.

"What has been retrieved has been downgraded to animal feed and will not be used for making bread."

Queensland produces about 5 percent of Australia's wheat. Australia is also the world's fourth biggest wheat exporter, providing critical supplies to Asia.

Mark Gold, managing partner at Top Third Ag Marketing in Chicago, told ABC that the damage to Queensland's wheat crop is contributing to worldwide shortages and pushing up prices.

"We've gone from $7.05 a bushel to $8.63 a bushel of Kansas City wheat. So that's … a little bit more than 20 percent increase, so it's been a direct correlation."

Gold said Queensland's sugar cane crop has also "certainly been affected" by the floods and was having an effect on sugar prices, already at their highest level in nearly 30 years.

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