Five questions for David Knapton, Australia’s new Senior Trade Commissioner to PNG


Australia is still Papua New Guinea’s largest trading partner and the country’s largest single source of investment. Business Advantage PNG speaks with Australia’s new Senior Trade Commissioner in Port Moresby David Knapton.

David Knapton_Austrade_email

Austrade’s David Knapton

Business Advantage PNG: David, would you provide us with some background about yourself and your experience?

David Knapton: I have been with Austrade and its predecessor organisation, the Department of Trade, for 39 years. This is my fourth posting overseas, two of which have been to PNG. My first posting here was in 1988. I had a wonderful two and a half years in Port Moresby before subsequent postings in Seoul and Kuala Lumpur. Port Moresby is one of my favourites and, when the opportunity to return came up, I was quick to put my hand up. If you’re wondering where all those other years went, I started in our Brisbane office but have also had stints in Sydney, Canberra, Newcastle, Darwin and Adelaide.

BAPNG: What differences have you noted in Port Moresby since your first posting?

DK: I’ve noticed a lot of positive changes and quite a few things that haven’t changed much at all. The most notable change would be the Poreporena Freeway, which now links the city to Waigani and the airport.

There’s also been a massive development in the shopping environment, with supermarkets and shopping complexes that didn’t exist in their current form when I was last here. I do think the traffic has got worse. There are a lot more cars on the road now and the road network hasn’t necessarily kept pace with the changing traffic environment.

BAPNG: Has there been any change from your predecessors in the role you’ve been given by Austrade?

DK: Not really. I think my predecessors John Brand and Kevan Dacey set a very good platform. We have focus areas to concentrate on based on the opportunities we believe exist in the market. The resources sector is an obvious area. Australia has strong capabilities in this area and I see more potential for growth, which will include investment from Australia, as well as the supply of goods and services.

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Another area is infrastructure. We’ll be doing a lot of work liaising with the various state-owned enterprises that manage this country’s infrastructure, and looking for opportunities and ways to support what the PNG government is trying to achieve through these state-owned enterprises.

The other area I would highlight is education. I think the need for further up-skilling in PNG is acknowledged and Australia has a very good education system to support this.

BAPNG: Australian Government policy has recently shifted more towards focusing on aid that develops PNG’s ability to trade and do business. Is there much co-ordination between the aid agency, Australian Aid, and Austrade?

DK: There is and there will be more. You’re probably aware that PNG is Australia’s second largest aid recipient, in the order of about AUD$580 million. We are working closely with the PNG Government on the focus areas that we both agree will provide most benefit to the country. These include health, education, law, governance and transport infrastructure.

BAPNG: The balance of trade between Australia and PNG can be a sensitive issue. How much of your role is about making PNG feel Australia is listening to opportunities that might also benefit PNG?

DK: This is very much our focus. In terms of the trade balance, it’s actually quite even. Total two-way trade between Australia and PNG totals about A$6.6 billion, and it’s split almost down the middle. We want to ensure that Australia is front of mind for PNG when the country is looking at its needs in terms of sourcing products, services or investment. We’ll also continue to assist Australian companies looking to develop business in this market in the hope that this will further support the development of the PNG economy.

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