Investment conference puts Papua New Guinea on the agenda


The two-day 2019 Business Advantage Papua New Guinea Investment Conference concluded yesterday in Sydney and is being hailed as a success. We report from the annual event.

Minister for Commerce Wera Mori, Foreign Minister Soroi Eoe, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Treasurer Sam Basil at the commencement of the 2019 Business Advantage PNG Investment Conference in Sydney. Credit: BAI

Opened by Minister for Commerce and Industry Wera Mori, representing Prime Minister James Marape, the conference was attended by delegates from nine different countries.

Minister Mori, Foreign Minister Soroi Eoe and Works Minister Michael Nali led a contingent of over 120 business leaders and government officials from Papua New Guinea to meet with international delegates from Australia, New Zealand, the US and the Pacific Islands. They heard from 35 expert speakers over two days.

Keynote speaker Bernard Salt talked about how demographic shifts in PNG’s major trading partners such as China, Japan and Australia would influence what they would buy from PNG in the future. Credit: BAI

‘The event was a great success, not only bringing government and business together with capital, but also starting some exciting new conversations about future business growth in PNG,’ said Andrew Wilkins, MC and event organiser for Business Advantage International.

‘It’s also worth noting the strong media presence at the conference. It’s one of the reasons we bring the event to an international business city like Sydney.’

Funding and investment

Nasfund Chief Investment Officer David Brown and Nambawan Super CEO Paul Sayer discuss raising capital with PNGX Chairman David Lawrence and Clarence Hoot, MD of the PNG Investment Promotion Authority. Credit: BAI

Major funders such as the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation and the Asian Development Bank were also in attendance. The United States’ Overseas Private Investment Corporation made its first appearance.

OPIC is expected to play a major role in funding the rollout of the PNG Rural Electrification Project and OPIC’s Director, Structured Finance & Insurance Douglas Midland told the conference of plans to double the US Government’s international investment fund to around US$60 billion through a remodelled International Development Finance Corporation, which is due to start operations later this year. He said the Indo-Pacific region would be a major focus for the fund.

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PNG’s major super funds, Nasfund and Nambawan Super, were represented, as was PNGX, PNG’s new-look national securities exchange. PNGX Chairman David Lawrence welcomed clarifications from Wera Mori at the conference about plans for cementing the Security Commission as a stand-alone regulator for PNG’s capital markets.

The conference also received an economic update on PNG from World Bank senior economist Ilyas Sarsenov, who elaborated on the bank’s recent report on PNG.

Mining and petroleum

Ok Tedi Mining’s Peter Graham and Oil Search’s Gerea Aopi discuss PNG’s resources sector with BAI’s Andrew Wilkins  Credit: BAI

The conference took place concurrently with negotiations in Singapore over the Papua LNG project between the PNG Government and lead developer Total SA. Two of PNG’s most experienced mining and petroleum executives, Peter Graham of Ok Tedi Mining and Gerea Aopi of Oil Search discussed the state of PNG’s resources sector at the conference. Anticipated changes to PNG’s resources laws, and the global factors influencing the sector, were two hot topics, as was the dearth of new exploration.

Gulf Province will be a major beneficiary of the Papua LNG project and delegates were given an overview of the development potential of the province from the IFC’s Christian Reichel and Peter KenGemar of the Ihu Special Economic Zone.

PNG’s fast-growing services sector was also a focus with KPMG Managing Partner Zanie Theron discussing the potential for further growth with Bank South Pacific’s GM Digital Nuni Kulu and Austrade’s Adrian Weeks.

Delegates also heard from innovative PNG SMEs about how they are achieving growth. Akai Beach, for example, told how she had scaled up her financial advisory business from three people to 30 by using cloud-based services.

Transport and infrastructure

After an entertaining session on the respective merits of Lae and Port Moresby, led by the President of Lae Chamber of Commerce John Byrne and Port Moresby Chamber Vice President Peter Goodwin, the second day of the conference was primarily focused on infrastructure and transport.

Unlike the moon landing, PNG’s quick wins from improved internet connectivity wouldn’t cost the earth, futurist Mark Pesce told the conference. Credit: BAI

The opportunities that will arise from the advent of the international and domestic fibre optic cables were addressed by keynote speaker Mark Pesce, who identified potential quick wins for agriculture and land registration. Meanwhile, former Bmobile CEO Sundar Ramamurthy discussed the vital importance of cheaper internet. Brendan Merry of IT services giant Data#3 talked about how business should address the risks associated with going online.

The conference heard of significant progress with the development of road and transport infrastructure in PNG, with the Secretary of the Department of Works David Wereh outlining how K10 million will be spent on PNG’s roads over the next five years.

Profitability: Air Niugini’s Alan Milne

Air Niugini CEO Alan Milne also talked about the progress being made to return PNG’s national airline to profitability.

Finally, PNG’s energy sector was addressed, with delegates hearing from PNG Power Acting Manager Director Carolyn Blacklock, who spoke of the state-owned utility’s progress on improving reliability on the Port Moresby grid from 70 per cent to over 99 per cent and its plans to access more cheap hydropower.

PNG’s Melanesian neighbours weren’t left out of the event, with bonus sessions run on the opportunities for PNG businesses in Fiji and the Solomon Islands.

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