Wednesday, October 17, 2018
 Australian Exports to China Have Increased from 5 Billion in 2002 to Over 50 Billion in 2012  

by Christian Edwards, Tiffany Hoy

The year 2012 is marked by the celebration of the 40th year of symbiotic relations between Australia and China that ushered in a tremendous economic growth for both countries.

But with signs that the China-led commodities boom in the region is on the decline, Australia's economy is also facing an uncertain future.

For a decade, China's growth has boosted the Australian economy like never before, pulling the country into the Asian Century; sheltered it from the debilitating effects of the global economic slowdown; and left it with a two-speed economic growth that economists and politicians are still struggling to understand, let alone manage.

The fresh element for the upcoming year is a fear that it all might end. The fear, however, could be unfounded since China's manufacturing sector has exhibited a slight rebound lately.

Australian exports to China have been effectively doubling every year for ten years, from 5 billion Australian dollars (5.26 billion U.S. dollars) in 2002 to over 50 billion Australian dollars (52.56 billion U.S. dollars) this year. Investments in mine projects or infrastructure went from 12 billion Australian dollars (12.61 billion U.S. dollars) in 2002-2003 to more than 82 billion Australian dollars (86.31 billion U.S. dollars) last fiscal year.

Thanks to the Chinese demand, between 2002 to 2012, weekly household incomes rose almost 33 percent across Australia, with Western Australia and the Northern Territory rising by 66 percent and 56 percent respectively. Iron ore prices climbed six times higher; metallurgical coal increased five times and thermal coal tripled.

It was a decades-long dream.

However, in August this year, BHP Billiton shelved its world record 20 billion Australian dollars (21.02 billion U.S. dollars) Olympic Dam mine expansion and announced a 35 percent fall in annual profit.

The delay of the giant copper, gold and uranium project, which had been touted as a one-stop mineral extravaganza and a miracle of mining-engineering, hit hard mining magnates and the Gillard government.

The shock prompted Australian Resources Minister Martin Ferguson to utter the year's most chilling declaration: "The commodity price boom is over and anyone with half a brain knows that!"

The declaration made in August created fury among Prime Minister Julia Gillard's Cabinet, panic in the sector and the inevitable multi-billion dollar mystery question: "If the mining boom is over, what will follow?"

Australian Treasurer Wayne Swan has insisted that there is still some 500 billion Australian dollars (525.6 billion U.S. dollars) in the investment pipeline, while Prime Minister Gillard has declared that while the commodity price boom may be over, the investment boom is not.

According to the Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics, committed investment in resources and energy projects in Australia hit a staggering 268.4 billion Australian dollars (282.52 billion U.S. dollars) in October.

It is what comes afterwards that has Australia worried. Should the boom collapses, economists agree that it will intensify Australia's two-speed recessionary shadow gripping most of the country, fueled in part by the high value of the Australian dollar.

But even with a looming downturn, construction from that initial investment rush is not due to peak until 2013, according to Huw McKay, executive director of Westpac Institutional Bank.

"There are certainly signs that resource companies are becoming more cautious... but equally we do see that quality assets which are very, very large, long-term commitments are still forging ahead to bring the volumetric elements of the mining boom to the fore," Mckay said.

"We've transited through the price stage of the boom. We are approaching the end of the capital-spending boom," he said, adding that Westpac expects that will happen sometime in 2013.

Certainly liquefied natural gas (LNG) remains the shining light of Australia's mining development. A trilogy of LNG developments worth well beyond 50 billion Australian dollars (52.56 billion U.S. dollars) began construction in Queensland in 2012 and should they come online without cost blowouts, this will help soften the hard landing for the industry.

In a few years, Australia may well overtake Qatar as the world' s leading LNG exporter though it will be iron ore, metallurgical and thermal coal that must make the resources sector.

Andrew Forrest, one of Australia's richest and most respected businessmen as well as a noted expert on China, told Xinhua that Australia's investment environment remained strong, despite the anxiety expressed by some sectors.

"If you look squarely at Australia's policy, it's very welcoming to all investments. Certainly it welcomes Chinese investments. We have much more relaxed investment rules in Australia compared to some countries in the region," Forrest said.

After another extraordinary year, Forrest's Fortescue Metals Group has made headway for other Australian companies to follow and he has been keen to encourage Australia's embrace of Asia.

"I would continue to encourage the embrace of Asia by this uniquely Australian country, which we are so proud of, and fear it not, embrace it, thrive on it," Forrest said.

Mckay said he is confident that Australia's relationship with China would continue to provide bilateral benefits and remain strong in the years ahead.

"It is really just a transition from a period where the Chinese positive influence on the Australian economy was mainly an income effect i.e., Chinese demand pushed commodity prices higher, that is what Australia exports, so we consumed a purchasing power boost from the Chinese imports," he said.

McKay said that going forward, Australia will continue to benefit from a relationship with China as the country provides greater volumes of exports. "We will expect to gain market shares in Chinese resource import demands, and therefore we will continue to get a boost to our domestic economy from the Chinese demand," he said.

Source: Shanghai Daily

Posted on Thursday, December 27, 2012 (Archive on Thursday, January 03, 2013)
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