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More Chinese resource deals in Australia?

April 28, 2011 at 3:04 PM   |   Comments

BEIJING, April 28 (UPI) -- Chinese investment in Australia's resources sector could get a boost as Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard wrapped up a four-day visit to China on Thursday.

On Tuesday Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Gillard witnessed the signing of five cooperative agreements, including a $600 million deal on financing for an iron ore project of Western Australia's Karara Mining Ltd.

Gillard also met with chief executives of a dozen of China's biggest resource buyers, with discussions focusing on investment and the resource trade.

"I am very confident the economic relationship between the two countries is good for both of us," Gillard said, indicating that productive trade with Australia's sale of energy resources to China has helped fuel China's massive economic growth.

Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang, for his part, suggested that the China-Australia energy and resources relationship go beyond that of buyer-seller.

"The two countries should seek a long-term stable and strategic cooperation in energy and resources, rather than maintain a simple buyer-seller relationship," Li said in a keynote speech at a China-Australia economic and trade forum Tuesday, Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua reports.

Australia is China's biggest supplier of iron ore, coal, aluminum and liquefied natural gas, with iron ore, an essential ingredient for steel, accounting for nearly half of Australian exports to China in 2009-10.

In an interview from Beijing with The Australian newspaper, Marius Kloppers, chief executive of the world's largest mining company BHP Billiton, said the supply of new iron ore mines cannot keep up with Chinese imports.

Kloppers said he expects the Chinese steel sector to nearly double over the next 15 years, from its current production of 600 million tons a year.

Kloppers welcomed the possibility of a major mining investment deal with China. That signals an end to icy relations with Beijing, after the company's lobbying was blamed for the overturning of Chinese state-owned Chinalco's bid in 2009 to buy a major stake in mining giant Rio Tinto, a deal at that time slated to be China's most ambitious mining venture. China is currently BHP Billiton's biggest customer.

Pointing to the foiled Chinalco-Rio Tinto deal, Andrew Shearer from the Lowy Institute for International Policy, a Sydney think tank, said there are still some reservations in Australia about foreign investment, particularly those involving state-owned companies.

But Shearer said a poll conducted by the institute indicated that three-quarters of Australians say China's growth is good for Australia.

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