RIYADH: Australia's two-way merchandise trade with Saudi Arabia has risen to 2.15 billion Australian dollars with major exports in 2011-2012 including passenger motor vehicles, barley, wheat and meat.
Major Australian imports from the Kingdom in 2011-2012 included fertilizers and crude oil.
Saudi citizens can obtain visit visas to Australia online within 48 hours, the visiting Australian high-level business delegation told Arab News in an interview.
"We have provided this facility exclusively for Saudis under a special initiative," Ahmed Fahour, the Australian special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC) said.
He said applying online to obtain visas to Australia has since become fast and quick since it can be done from home and work. This is especially useful for women and families.
The business mission was led by Mark Vaile, former deputy prime minister of Australia and former minister for trade. Anna Bligh, former Queensland premier, Fahour and other prominent personalities were members of the delegation.
Tom Wallace, chief financial officer of Servcorp Limited and Brian Wilson of Wilson Pastoral Australia were also present. Twelve chief and senior executives from Australian-based blue-chip companies developed a power network of key corporate, government, non-government and diplomatic leaders and organizations in Saudi Arabia.
This visit marks the third time the AGC has been in the region and this week's delegation follows successful visits, which have been in the region to strengthen trade and bilateral relations since 2010.
Bligh said she believes there is huge potential for improving business and commercial ties between Australian businesses and Saudi entrepreneurs. "There are a number of areas where we already have substantial business relations. For example, cooperation is growing in the agriculture, mining sector and education," she said.
She said that are approximately 12,000 Saudi students studying in Australian universities and about 72,000 family members are accompanying them.
She hoped that research partnership and business relations would strengthen further in decades to come.
"I think it's a very important link between the two countries when the young people come together in education," she said.
Bligh noted that Australia recently battled with the global financial crisis. "We have been recognized internationally the strongest Western economy despite the global financial crisis," she said. "Our government took very swift action to stimulate the economy and stabilize the banking system."
She said Australia has a very strong economy ideal for investment. It is a very safe place for investment where investment is protected by the rule of law, she said.
"We have very a strong economy and that is the reason we put much attention to countries like Saudi Arabia for building long-term relationship. We are agricultural producers and we have been exporting sheep to Saudi Arabia. We are looking to expand business and we want investment in Australia in agriculture and work together to produce the needs of this region," Brian Wilson said.
For Tom Wallace, the purpose of his visit to the Kingdom was to represent Servcorp that was established in the Kingdom two years ago and he is looking forward to further expanding that network. "We actually opened three centers, two in Riyadh one in Alkhobar," he said. "We meet requirements of small businesses in the Kingdom.
The former Queensland Premier Bligh noted that the aim of the delegation and the Australian Gulf Council (AGC) was to enhance business ties with the Kingdom.
"We had a number of meetings with the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry members, with Riyadh Bank officials, with the Ministry of Agriculture and the Minister of Commerce and Industry officials, with officials of Al-Rajhi Bank, Saudi Arabia General Investment Authority (SAGIA) as well as Australian companies working in the Kingdom. Our delegates also had individual meetings with potential business partners."
Separately, she said, she had the chance to meet the Secretary-General of the World Association for Muslim Youth (WAMY).
Fahour said that in order to create a strong business links we need strong people-to-people links. On that basis we are saying that Australia will build an Islamic museum, which will be opening next year. It has a good support from the Saudi-based institutions, one of them being the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) based in Jeddah, he said.
Bligh said tourism is an important industry in Australia.
"We are country that offers world travelers unique experience that you can not have in the world that attract people all over the world and we had many people from Saudi Arabia coming for tourism visit, we have the Gulf Coast as many attractions," she said.
She noted there are prayer rooms in shopping malls and the Gulf Coast often have signs in Arabic to welcome visitors.
The objectives of the AGC Business Mission are considered and targeted. The message the AGC Business Mission Leadership and delegation will deliver to Saudi Arabia and the UAE is that Australia is open for business and keen to expand its relationship with both countries.
The delegation wants to liaise with GCC governments about bilateral trade and investment linkages. Engage with business community in Australia, Saudi Arabia and the UAE to gauge common business opportunities and restriction.
The delegation wants to encourage reciprocal policy and program exchanges to and from Australia and the Gulf States.
In addition, they want to invite key corporate and government organizations, introduce strategic and corporate partner opportunity. Develop stronger and sustained linkage across the business and government communities in Australia, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
The business envoys also hope to develop AGC initiatives to sustain the development of long-term relationship building and commercial engagement. Discussion and collaboration in relation to the development of comprehensive Australian policy toward the Middle East with specific reference to trade and investment focusing on Saudi Arabia.
AGC is a peak business organization that facilitates and nurtures relationships between the Gulf States and Australia through our corporate partnership and other commercial, government, non-government and diplomatic stakeholders.
Their mission is to facilitate increased two-way trade and investment by representing our corporate partners from Australia and the Gulf States at the highest level.
The AGC works closely with the Australian Government and in particular the Department of Foreign and Trade (DFAT) and Austrade, which have been crucial in the establishment and operation of the AGC. The AGC also works with Australian State Government representatives in the Gulf States.
"Our goal is to continue to develop stronger and sustained relationships across the business and government communities in Australia, Saudi Arabia and the UAE," said Jonathan Herps, chief executive officer of the AGC.
"Over the past two years we have worked hard to nurture mutually beneficial relationships between the Gulf states and Australia through our corporate partners and other commercial, government, nongovernment and diplomatic stakeholders.
Sectors represented on the business mission by chief and senior executives include automotive, agriculture, construction and engineering, education, financial services, food and beverage, transport, telecommunications and tourism.
"Once again it is going to be a packed program that will include senior-level government to business and business to business engagements," said Herps.
© Arab News 2012
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