Lae to become city of innovation and growth, says the President of LCCI


John Byrne, President of the Lae Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), tells Business Advantage PNG that despite foreign exchange shortages and poor roads, there is an upward trend in the city.

Hornibrook NGI, PNG’s premier steel fabrication and building company, has been assigned to different construction projects in LAE. Credit: BAI

Business Advantage PNG (BAPNG): How is Lae travelling at the moment?

John Byrne (JB): Businesses in Lae have been caught up in the foreign exchange issue, like most businesses have. A lot of importers have been hit very hard. You can see it in the supermarket shelves. They have to balance what they are bringing in and not bringing in. Products that you have seen previously are not there anymore.

BAPNG: How are businesses adapting?

JB: Agribusiness has grown in recent times. There has been more investment in the Markham Valley with Trukai Industries doing the rice fields, cassava for SP Brewery, and sorghum through Mainland Holdings.

‘If we get those roads built, I see more smallholders getting better business, which benefits the economy as a whole.’

It is import replacement as much as it is about the need to support the local economy and satisfy government requirements.

We are a food bowl and, if we can do it locally, it makes sense. As for the economy itself, most people are saying it has been consistent for the last 12 months or so.

BAPNG: What is the reaction to the new Marape government?

LCCI’s John Byrne.

JB: There is a hesitancy, people want to see if words will be turned into action. The bigger projects are more worried about what will happen than anybody else. But you wouldn’t want the Marape Government to make changes in a week; you want them to strategise, to plan.

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We also had the review of the foreign investment bill. We understand and fully support the need for it in terms of having more PNG nationals owning businesses, but there has been a lack of education and training of people at that level. Some business houses train responsibly and very effectively, but some do not. Educators don’t have funding because it is often tied to government funds; but it’s not just the Government’s responsibility, it is everybody’s responsibility.

However, enacting legislation without proper consultation, to change things overnight, is not correct. LCCI will continue to work with our local and national governments to improve conditions for our businesses and people.

BAPNG: Are there signs of progress in Lae’s infrastructure?

JB: A lot of the bigger roads have been repaired. The road out of the port, Milfordhaven Rd, was a volcanic ride wherever you went 12 months ago, but now it is concrete the whole way through. The dual carriageway for the highway between Nine Mile and Yalu Bridge has been started.

‘We are open for business and growth as the heart and engine room of PNG.’

The roads external to Lae City need to be worked on. The Lae–Bulolo–Wau Highway is one of the worst highways in the country at present. It is an important conduit for business and mining but it is also vital to a massive amount of small coffee, cocoa and produce growers, who are impeded from coming down to the market or export because of the poor highway conditions.

All the offshoots off the Markham Highway require work. If we get those roads built, I see more smallholders getting better business, which benefits the economy as a whole.

BAPNG: What do you hope to see from the Wafi-Golpu Joint Venture (WGJV) mine if it goes ahead?

Lae City. Credit: LCCI

JB: The aspiration is to get more local businesses getting work out of it.

The developer, Wafi-Golpu Joint Venture (WGJV), has been quite open and transparent, and advised that there are a lot of our businesses don’t meet the specifications for the tender process, let alone the job.

WGJV is doing great community work for agrifarmers and landowner communities, therefore, I asked: ‘Will you assist by training local businesses to get up to your specifications for a tender process and the expectations of such a relationship?’ And they said ‘yes.’ A challenge to any business, but we will see a lot of people moving businesses. Businesses need to invest in both the number of people they have and training.

But despite all of this, Lae City is on an upward trend—we have an inspirational MP, John Rosso, who is supported by Morobe Governor Ginson Gohehu Saonu. They work in concert with a newly appointed Lae City Authority and with the Police Department, (which has reduced petty and opportunistic crime by 80 per cent in the past two years), plus a revitalised and energetic LCCI.

We are open for business and growth as the heart and engine room of PNG in commercial, agriculture, tourism and culture. Lae is the city of innovation and growth.

John Byrne, President of the Lae Chamber of Commerce and Industry, will be speaking at the 2019 Papua New Guinea Investment Conference in Sydney on 19 and 20 August. For further details, visit


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