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By Yehiura Hriehwazi

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Feb. 3) - Some 80 Papua New Guinea business and government officials will accompany Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare to China next week - the largest delegation ever on an official state visit.

Of the 80, 38 are mining, petroleum and gas developers whom Sir Michael has invited to travel with him to open up possible new markets in what is likely to challenge Australian investments in PNG. 

Representatives from other resource sectors, government officials and ministers make up the other members of the delegation. 

The highlight of the visit is expected to be the signing of the Ramu Nickel financing, development and marketing agreement, which is expected take place on Feb 10. Sir Michael and his Chinese counterpart will witness the signing.

"We will also be actively seeking investors to develop our natural resources, especially mining, petroleum and gas," said a senior government official yesterday, adding: "Australian investors have a very negative attitude here, so we look elsewhere." 

He said the government has grown tired of waiting on empty promises from donor agencies and traditional friends.

"We can't sit around and wait for things to happen, we have to go out and bring them in," he said.

The official said this could mean more tax incentives and concessions to re-activate investor interests and make them "sink their dollars here".

Mining Minister Sam Akoitai highlighted the possibility of more tax concessions last Sunday when he told reporters that he would recommend to the Prime Minister to consider tax relief for the Chinese to fully finance the US$650 million Ramu nickel/cobalt project in the Madang province.

Some members of the delegation traveled with former Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta during his official visit to China in 2001.

Other sectors in the trip include a strong delegation from the timber industry led by the Timber Industries Association president Stanis Bai that includes RH Group managing director James Lau.

Representatives from the agriculture and fisheries sectors are also included.

The government and the business executives will stage a trade show in Beijing.

Several senior government ministers have already traveled ahead. 

Petroleum Minister Sir Moi Avei, and National Planning Minister Sinai Brown and his departmental head Valentine Kambori, are attending a conference in Moroco before travelling to China.

February 4, 2004

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