W Australia seeks S'pore tie-up on LNG

W Australia seeks S'pore tie-up on LNG

Western Australia wants to expand ties with Singapore by using it as a trading hub for the state's massive supply of liquefied natural gas (LNG), and its Premier, Mr Colin Barnett, will push for collaboration on gas projects when he arrives in Singapore today.

He also hopes that Singapore can help to develop his state's wine and agricultural products industries.

Ahead of his four-day visit, Mr Barnett told The Straits Times he wants to use the visit to boost trade and social relations, claiming that Perth - sometimes dubbed "Singaperth" - has one of the highest populations of Singaporeans in any city outside Singapore. The 2011 national census revealed there were 13,972 Singapore-born residents in the state. That's about 29 per cent of all Singaporeans in Australia.

"Our relations are historically strong and we are physically close - it is a natural fit to do more together," Mr Barnett said.

"We are a small population with the world's biggest resource economy and can work with Singapore's position in Asia - its geography, its financial strength, and its marketing and entrepreneurial spirit. It can tie in well."

Western Australia, the country's largest state in terms of size, has been at the centre of the nation's resources boom for more than a decade. With a population of 2.6 million, it is the nation's fastest-growing state and is responsible for about half of all of Australia's exports. Some 70 per cent of its exports go to China.

The state's huge iron ore projects have helped to fuel China's construction boom but Western Australia is soon set to become one of the world's biggest suppliers of LNG.

Singapore is already one of Western Australia's biggest trading partners, with two-way trade worth about A$10 billion (S$10.5 billion) last year. Mr Barnett believes the state could work together with Singapore, which aims to become a major global LNG trading hub. He said Western Australia produces about 15 million tonnes a year - some 6 per cent of the global supply - but could produce more than 50 million tonnes by the end of the decade.

"If Singapore is going to develop as a trading point and storage point for LNG, it will need to access long-term supplies of gas," he said. "There is an enormous opportunity to do that, given the proximity of Australia and the size of our reserves of conventional reservoir gas off the coast of Western Australia."

According to the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association, which represents the sector, Australia is developing about A$180 billion worth of projects, or about 70 per cent of the world's plants under construction.

Some of the biggest projects are in Western Australia, including Chevron's A$70 billion Gorgon project off the north-west coast, one of the world's biggest resources projects. It is due to begin shipping LNG before the end of the year.

Mr Barnett, 64, who belongs to the Liberal party, has been the Premier for seven years and is known as a pro-development and no-nonsense leader.

He said the recent fall in iron ore prices had come as a "shock" and was affecting mining companies, particularly smaller ones.

"It is having more severe impact than the (1997) Asian crisis or the (2008) global financial crisis did but that is the nature of the economy here," he said.

During his visit, he will meet Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong - their fourth meeting - and will hold meetings on promoting sports ties, particularly hockey, as well as co-operation on science.

He will also address a conference run by the University of Western Australia's In the Zone forum on regional issues.

Mr Barnett said he wants to use the meeting with Mr Lee on Tuesday to promote LNG ties as well as increase trade in agricultural products. Western Australia is known as a supplier of grain and cattle, as well as a source of some of Australia's best wines.

"I think Singapore has an enormous opportunity to be involved in the processing and development of agriculture and the marketing and distribution of it," he said.

"We believe we can increase our agriculture production, but to do that we need to produce more specialist niche products. They need to be high-quality and marketed throughout Asia."

jonathanmpearlman@gmail.com


This article was first published on April 11, 2015.
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