Australia has joined a growing queue of countries awaiting payments from the Soviet Union. Moscow owes Australian wool exporters US$75 million.
A foreign currency shortage is forcing the Soviet Union to sell gold reserves to pay for grain shipments. Exporters in the United States, Japan, Britain, West Germany, and New Zealand are also reporting problems with delayed payments. Moscow's hard currency shortage began last year and does not seem to be improving, analysts say.
Novoexport, the Soviet Union's import agency, is asking Australian wool exporters for an extension on its credit, from 25 days to 365 days. But Australia is balking. An official at the Australian Wool Exporter's Council says sales of wool to the Soviets will stop until payment is made.
``We think the Soviets will come up with the money. We just don't know when. But given the position the wool industry is in, they want their money now,'' explains a spokesman for Australia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Australia is the world's top wool producer, and the Soviet Union is their second biggest customer after Japan. But record wool export sales last year of US$4.5 billion have given way to a wool glut and falling prices. Sales this year are expected to be 25 to 30 percent lower. If sales to the Soviets are halted for long, prices are expected to fall further and exacerbate Australia's foreign trade deficit.
In February, Australia signed a trade agreement to obtain better access to the Soviet market for commodity exporters. Now, some analysts are questioning the value of that access.
International trading houses report payment delays on other commodities such as meat, alumina, and bauxite. Some are freezing credit lines to the Soviet Union.