x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Australia looks to Gulf funds for A$700bn infrastructure investment

Potential investments could include urban rail, roads and tunnels across the country’s major cities as well as intensive agribusiness projects.

The UAE remains Australia’s most important trading partner in the region with the Gulf country a major market of agricultural products. Above,  wheat farming near Narrabri, eastern Australia. Daniel Munoz / Reuters
The UAE remains Australia’s most important trading partner in the region with the Gulf country a major market of agricultural products. Above, wheat farming near Narrabri, eastern Australia. Daniel Munoz / Reuters

Australia is seeking Gulf sovereign wealth fund investment to help plug a A$700 billion (Dh2.41 trillion) infrastructure funding gap.

It comes as the country launches its largest ever trade and investment mission to the Gulf states – targeting agribusiness, education and infrastructure among other sectors.

“There are some serious opportunities for major-league projects in Australia over the next decade,” said Andrew Robb, the minister for trade and investment. “It’s one of the major priorities for the new government. We have got a A$700bn infrastructure deficit.”

Potential investments could include urban rail, roads and tunnels across the country’s major cities as well as intensive agribusiness projects.

“We could double our agricultural output if we apply the right investment,” he said. “These are projects that could contribute not only to food security but tie in to the distribution network here.”

High on the minister’s agenda during his trip will be the future of the ailing flag carrier Qantas. Australia’s new government is keen to roll back restrictions on foreign investment in the airline.

Existing rules limit foreign holdings in Qantas to 49 per cent with foreign airline investment capped at 35 per cent. Qantas says this gives its rival Virgin Australia, part-owned by Etihad Airways, an unfair advantage.

“As a government we have said we want to open the opportunities for foreign investors. I think Qantas would very much welcome other foreign investors and that would give them a much more level playing field with Virgin Australia,” said Mr Robb. “We want to see viable airlines in Australia. In time it’s the only solution to make sure that the Qantas brand has viability.”

He said he expected the issue to arise at a meeting this week with the Emirates Airline chairman Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum.

Australians are among the fastest growing visitors to the UAE as a result of the partnership between the nation’s major airlines.

The increased number of flights to the Arabian Gulf, currently running at about 140 each week, is also creating increased scope for air cargo, said Mr Robb.

“The rapid growth of direct aviation links is further strengthening the links with the region. It’s not just the people movements because every aircraft has an opportunity for cargo. It’s creating an opportunity to bring in very significant quantities of fresh food,” he said.

scronin@thenational.ae

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