Autonomous Region of Bougainville: Papua New Guinea Business Guide


Two islands make up most of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville (ARB): the larger main island for which the region is named, as well as Buka, separated by the Buka Passage, one of the fastest-running currents in the world.

A view from above. Credit: Sebastian Andreas

Since 2000, ARB has had a unique status among PNG’s provinces, possessing a greater degree of autonomy. The region encompasses smaller atoll chains with rich fishing waters. Bougainville has its own time zone: it is one hour ahead of elsewhere in PNG.

Economic overview

Bougainville was granted a form of self-government within PNG under the Bougainville Peace Agreement of 2001, which also provided for a vote on independence, which took place during in November 2019. The referendum saw 85 per cent voter turnout and 97.7 per cent of voters chose independence from PNG.

The referendum, however, is non-binding and following negotiations between both governments the final outcome will be determined by a vote in PNG’s National Parliament. At the time of writing, there is no set date for the voting to take place.

The main commercial opportunities are in minerals, plantation agriculture, tourism and fisheries. The province also exports copra and cocoa. There is also the potential to introduce new commodities for export and domestic consumption, including farming high-value fish and beche-de-mer in the three-mile limit of Bougainvillean waters. There are also opportunities in logging.

Bougainville has a need for infrastructure for the export of marine products, off-grid power and other processing equipment for the artisanal mining sector. ARB is the site of the large Panguna copper mine, which closed in 1989 due to political instability. Significant investment is needed to rehabilitate the mine.

Since 2016, the people of Bougainville have had a significant stake in the former developer of the mine, Bougainville Copper Limited, holding a 36.4 per cent share in the company, as does PNG. Under the new Bougainville Mining Act, which vests mineral rights in the hands of customary land owners, some small-scale geological exploration has recently commenced in the region.

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The Bougainville landscape throws up everything from volcanoes to palm-fringed beaches. Credit: Sebastian Andreas

With its mist-shrouded mountains, volcanoes, palm-fringed beaches and tropical islands, Bougainville offers a study in contrasts. The Buka Town Tourism Development Plan Initiative 2016-2020 outlines a strategy to develop Buka town as a tourism hub in the region.

World War 2 buffs can see many relics of war including a site near Buin, which features the downed plane of Japanese commander Yamamoto. Another option is to hike the Numa Numa Trail across the spine of Bougainville Island, taking in thick jungle and Mount Balbi.

There are many snorkelling and swimming opportunities in the islands just off Buka.

Where to stay

Autonomous Region of Bougainville

Province name: Autonomous Region of Bougainville

Capital: Buka

Population: 243,280

Area: 9318 square kilometres

Distance from Port Moresby: 960 kilometres

Getting there: Air Niugini flies from Port Moresby to Buka regularly. The flight time is 1 hour 40 minutes.

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