Six things we learned at Australia–Papua New Guinea Business Forum in Lae


Trade Minister Richard Maru urged Australian and Papua New Guinean business leaders to look seriously at diversifying their areas of investments. Business Advantage PNG reports from last week’s Australia–Papua New Guinea Business Forum in Lae.

Australia's Trade Minister, Andrew Robb, with PNG Trade Minister, Richard Maru. Credit: PNGBC

Australia’s Trade Minister, Andrew Robb, with PNG Trade Minister, Richard Maru. Credit: PNGBC

Maru was addressing the 39th annual conference of the Australia-Papua New Guinea Business Council and the Papua New Guinea Business Council, held last week in Lae.

It was the first time the conference was held in Lae and despite the additional travel time for international delegates, the two days produced discussion on some stimulating topics and conclusions.

1. The Australia-PNG relationship is solid and growing

Trade Minister Maru said he would like to see more investments being made in the areas of large scale farming, processing of dairy products and manufacturing, but also wants the trade imbalance ‘corrected’.

Australia’s Trade Minister, Andrew Robb, called for ‘collaboration’ in new ventures into Asia. ‘Australian investment in PNG is worth about $19 billion, while bilateral trade stands at around $7 billion and we are keen to grow these numbers.’

Morobe Governor Kelly Naru said he wanted to partner with the national government upgrade Lae airport to international standard to accommodate direct Cairns-Lae flights. In his welcome address, he said a 500-hectare Export Processing Zone is being established in Lae, which will free up land for more factories and businesses. He is also about to launch an export promotion office.

‘PNG should no longer be bracketed as ‘undeveloped’ and we can do this in partnership with Australia,’ he said.

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2. Business cool on regional trade agreements

The Chief Trade Adviser of Pacific Islands Countries, Dr Edwini Kessie, outlined the nature and progress being made towards reaching a final text of the proposed PACER Plus Agreement, which aims to boost trade between Australia, New Zealand and Pacific island nations.

However, Chey Scovell, CEO of the PNG Manufacturers’ Council disputed its value, pointing out that many Pacific governments rely on import taxes for their income, which they might lose under a regional free-trade agreement.

3. Lae a viable alternative to Port Moresby for conferences

More than 400 business people from Australia and PNG attended the conference.

‘We had tremendous interest from both Papua New Guinea and Australian business interests,’ Douveri Henao, Executive Director of the PNGBC, told Business Advantage PNG. For many it was their first visit to Lae.

‘Excellent being in Lae, the traditional home of manufacturing in Papua New Guinea and the home of PNG’s most important port,’ noted one delegate.

4. The resources sector continues to dominate investment

Australia's Trade Minister, Andrew Robb with PNG Prime Minister, Peter O'Neill. Credit: PNGBC

Australia’s Trade Minister, Andrew Robb with PNG Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill. Credit: PNGBC

Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said three new major resource sector projects would soon be approved, and a wider range of foreign companies are investing in PNG. He referred to Total of France, Anglo-American and China’s GRAM as three global companies taking part in new ventures.

In other comments, O’Neill added there was a need to create downstreaming processes to take fuller advantage of these mining projects, the local workforce must be upskilled, and other sectors, such as tourism and agriculture needed strengthening.

The executive project director of the Morobe Mining Joint Venture Bryan Bailie said the proposed Wafi-Golpu project will bring in significant economic benefits for the country, including local buying and contracting for goods and services, ongoing operational expenditure, taxation royalties and the mining levy.

5. Young people keen to engage with business leaders

A special session on ‘Emerging Leaders’ demonstrated the ‘get up and go’ attitude among younger, educated Papua New Guineans. Anthony Smare outlined the Kumul Gamechangers Business Plan competition, designed to connect entrepreneurs who have innovative ideas and/or existing businesses with financial backers. One plan, he briefly outlined, was an internet-based home delivery service for supermarket shoppers.

6. Executives in the formal sector can lead social reform

In a deliberate departure from usual business conference agenda, the councils invited NGO leaders, including Cassandra Ranjip from Remembering Kepair Leniata Campaign and Serena Sasingan from The Voice project to outline how business could assist their work with disadvantaged Papua New Guineans.

Ranjip called on corporate heads in the formal business sector to lead the way with policies on sexual harassment, equality in the workplace and diversity. She said if the formal sector provides the lead, then the informal sector would follow suit.

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