Commentator John Garnaut, writing in the Brisbane Times, says Chinese mining companies are shunning Australia, with its strong environmental and other regulations, and choosing to invest instead in ‘more relaxed’ countries like Papua New Guinea.
As evidence Garnaut points to Luo Tao, chairman of China Nonferrous Metal Mining, who this month complained of “bias” against Chinese investors in Australia. China Non Ferrous Metals has recently signed an agreement to build the Yanderra mine in PNG.
Garnaut also says that last month, at a lunch hosted by the Australian ambassador, Geoff Raby, several Chinese executives told the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, of their concerns about the Foreign Investment Review Board, labour laws, environmental regulations and various approval processes.
According to Garnaut, he previous day Shen Heting, chairman of China Metallurgical Construction Corp, developer of the Ramu nickel mine in PNG with its controversial marine tailings dumping system, put his criticisms of Australia on the record.
Garnaut also quotes advisers as saying Chinese clients are baulking at the ”political risk” associated with Australia, opting instead to pursue opportunities in countries.
“When the phrase political risk is applied to Australia, ahead of developing economies that have only just become democracies, then it is time to look closely at the data”.
“Thilo Hanemann, of Rhodium Group, keeps a file on every Chinese foreign investment in the resource and energy sectors. His data shows that in the space of two years Australia is in danger of tumbling from being China’s preferred investment destination to an also-ran”.
“Chinese companies completed 25 investments in Australia that were announced on or after January 1 last year, which is more than in any other country. But the value of those investments totals just $3.6 billion, which ranks Australia fourth behind Brazil, Canada and Argentina”.
“But the news is worse than that. The biggest of China’s 25 “investments” in Australia was actually a restructuring, where Minmetals transferred assets from an Australian subsidiary to a company in Hong Kong (diluting Chinese ownership of the Australian assets)”.
“After removing that $2.8 billion reshuffle, Chinese companies have invested just $750 million in Australian resource and energy assets since the start of last year”.
“In value terms, Australia drops to fifth place behind the US. Australia is getting many small investments, including by state-owned enterprises and private companies, as joint ventures and acquisitions, but the big money is passing us by”.
“There is a case for discriminating against some kinds of investment by state-owned companies. Any Chinese SOE can potentially be a profit-driven “normal” company or a multi-purpose tool of government policy, depending on the day”.
“Many Chinese investors who have plunged money into Australia only have themselves to blame for cost overruns and delays. They have thrown billions of government money into assets they do not know how to manage in markets they do not understand”.
“The consequences of missing out on investment capital should no longer be ignored. Lower inflows of Chinese investment have reduced the value of Australian assets, reduced mine and infrastructure construction and, inevitably, they will reduce Australia’s export share in the global market long after the boom has ended”.