Imbalanced Trade Relations Highlighted at 38th Australia Papua New Guinea Business Forum and Trade Expo

By: PNG Business News May 18, 2023

Photo credit: Australia Papua New Guinea Business Council

Hon. Richard Maru, Minister for International Trade and Investment, in his keynote address on the 16th of May at the 38th PNG-Australia Business Forum and Trade Expo at Hilton Hotel Port Moresby, said Papua New Guinea's trade was always in favor towards Australia.

“For the last 47 years, trade has been in favour of Australia; that has been the status quo. PNG’s exports to Australia are gold and other precious metals, which comprise over 98% of total exports. This means less than 2% are from the non-extractive sector and are valued at about K50 million per annum,” he said.

Australia’s total exports to PNG are estimated at over K1.5 billion, which translates to a ratio of 1 to 10 -- a very huge trade imbalance. In terms of investment, Australia has invested AU$24 billion in PNG, while PNG invested AU$ 4 billion in real estate,” said Minister Maru.

“Australia has been using its very stringent technical barriers and biosecurity to make it very difficult for PNG to export its taro, sweet potato, fish, and other food products to Australian market. So as far I as the Minister for International Trade and Investment is concerned, there is no need for us to talk about a trade agreement,” he added.

“There is no need to talk about Placer Plus or even a study on a Free Trade Agreement between our countries. There is no point when the trade and investment imbalance is so big and so skewed to Australia and unlikely to be reduced in the foreseeable future,” said Minister Maru.

The minister encouraged Australian businesses to seriously canvas more new and emerging business opportunities in PNG and seek to partner with local SMEs and PNG-owned companies in their business endeavours. 

On the other hand, Australian Senator the Hon. Tim Ayers, Assistant Minister for Trade and Assistant Minister for Manufacturing, in his keynote address said Australia is proud to be Papua New Guinea's largest economic, security, and development partner, with two-way trade reaching $5 billion in 2021-2022.

"Trade isn't just about commercial benefits, it's also about dealing with big challenges, building capacity to meet international market standards, and creating businesses that deliver good local jobs,” he said.

“Australia is proud to support Papua New Guinean companies and reach their potential by elevating the quality of production to meet international market standards and establish commercial links with Australia and New Zealand,” said Senator Ayres. 

A testament to Australia's commitment is the PHARMA Plus program, where the Queen Emma Chocolate Factory received expert training and technical expertise in producing international-standard products certified to the Australian and New Zealand Markets as outlined by Senator Ayers. 

Regarding trade, Ms. Jane Ravusiro, Advocate for Sustainable & Inclusive Agriculture Growth & Livelihoods for Abt Associates Australia, commented that the Papua New Guinea market was not viable with strict security protocols, and that the Australian market was structured differently. 

An example of this barrier of trade put into picture was a presentation made by Mr. Navin Raju, Chief Executive Officer for City Pharmacy Limited, who gave an account of CPL's work in Papua New Guinea, especially in engaging local farmers in the agriculture sector to better equip them in selling their produce.

He explained there was no proper market access available from the farmers’ end to the buyers and that relevant stakeholders and authorities should work together in making sure Papua New Guinea's agriculture produce does reach Australia. 

“When I go to the Australian markets, I usually see taro from Tonga or Fiji. How about PNG and why can't our taro reach Australian Markets?” said Mr. Raju.

The forum showed Papua New Guinea and Australia's perspective on how each country had a different type of business environment and a dire need to address outstanding technical and political issues regarding trade.

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