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Australian Trade Minister says ‘collaboration’ with Papua New Guinea reflects new focus on trade-for-aid

Australia’s Trade and Investment Minister, Andrew Robb, has called for a ‘collaborative approach’ with Papua New Guinea to take advantage of rising global demands for food, energy and water.

In an address to the 31st Australia–Papua New Guinea Business Forum in the industrial city of Lae this week, Andrew Robb said there were close similarities in Australia’s and Papua New Guinea’s economic needs and potential which both should work to capitalise on.

He later told Business Advantage PNG, this move focus reflected the Australian government’s new focus on ‘trade-for-aid’.

‘We are putting half a billion dollars in aid each year into PNG. But we’re really keen to significantly increase the focus on aid for trade.’
Prepare for next boom

With the current low prices of resources, Robb said this should be a time for companies to innovate, be more productive and to prepare for the next phase of growth, ‘and it will come sooner than you might think’.

The Australian Federal Government last week committed A$5 billion (K10.75 billion) to develop northern Australia, and Rob said he wanted to see both countries collaborate on developing products and services that would suit the growing numbers of people living in the tropics.

He said the middle classes of China, India and other parts of Asia are growing rapidly, and their numbers would total three billion by 2025 and they would all need food, energy and water—commodities that both Australia and PNG possess.

It’s not inconsistent to be both competing with, and collaborating with, other countries, he told Business Advantage PNG.

‘On the things that we’re good at,’ he said, ‘there’s a lot of sense in collaboration. In fact, a lot of sense in investment both ways, because you pick up new ideas, innovation and fill one another’s gaps.

PNG will be ‘a resources powerhouse’ in the coming decade, he said.

‘Agriculture: enormous opportunity. It just needs infrastructure, which I think resources would pay for. In many respects, tourism has spectacular opportunities.’

He said 100 million people left China last year for a holiday. In five years’ time, the Chinese government projects that figure will rise to 200 million.

He also said healthcare for the tropics, where some 40% of the world’s population will live in 20 years’ time, was another key area. He cited bandages that were unsuited to tropical climates and came off as soon as a patient left the hospital as one example where there could be collaboration.
White Paper

An Australian Government White Paper outlining initiatives would be finished within the next six-seven weeks, he added.
He was hopeful that mining development would drive infrastructural development so that agriculture ‘which is at the moment not viable, will be viable once you get the roads in and the locals then have a greater capacity to run businesses and participate in the workforce.’

Capital needs

He said both Australia and PNG shared a need for capital investment and while there was billions of dollars in investment monies available in the world, many investors were happy to earn negative interest on their capital, rather than put that money into risky investments.

‘The world is awash with cheap money,’ he said, and also awash with ‘very suspicious investors’.

‘Both our countries have the opportunity to persuade investors that we are safe, stable places to invest in.’


Robb also referred to the ongoing issue of visas-on-arrival for PNG citizens entering Australia and Australian citizens entering PNG. Earlier at the forum, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said he hoped the issue would be resolved by the end of the year.

Robb said it was a ‘systems thing, if anything’, pointing out that Australia doesn’t give visas-on-arrival to citizens of any country, ‘but we are working through it’.

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