Australia

Australian officials prepare to visit Papua New Guinea for trade talks

Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Minister for Trade Simon Birmingham at the 2018 APEC Ministers Meeting in Papua New Guinea. Source: AAP

Six Australian ministers will travel to Papua New Guinea on Monday to discuss trade and economy ties, at the largest delegation of its kind in more than 10 years.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne will today lead five of her colleagues to a forum in Papua New Guinea, the largest delegation of its kind in more than a decade.

The ministerial meetings in Port Moresby will focus on boosting security and economic ties with Australia's nearest neighbour.

Senator Payne will also be joined at the forum by Australia's finance, defence, international development, immigration and trade ministers.

Australia is PNG's largest trading partner, with two-way trade of $6.7 billion and investment of $17 billion in 2018.

Papua New Guinea's Minister for Foreign Affairs Soroi Eoe.
Papua New Guinea's Minister for Foreign Affairs Soroi Eoe.
AAP

Senator Payne and her PNG counterpart Soroi Eoe will host a business dialogue to discuss trade and economic conditions between the two governments.

The minister will also launch a new secondary school initiative that links 24 Australian schools with those in PNG.

"The program will connect students and teachers for learning and education leadership outcomes and deepen our people-to-people links," Senator Payne said ahead of her trip.

"I will also meet women working in community development to hear about their work on health, education, disability, and entrepreneurship."

Over the weekend, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds opened the first phase of an expanded naval base on Manus Island.

Australia is also in talks with PNG about giving the nation a significant loan, although the Pacific nation's treasurer has hosed down reports his government wants $1.5 billion.

Australia already gives PNG about $600 million a year in development aid, but has rejected previous requests for direct budget support.

PNG is engaged in financial talks with Australia but its treasurer denies seeking a $1.5bn loan.
PNG is engaged in financial talks with Australia but its treasurer denies seeking a $1.5bn loan.
AAP

Canberra usually prefers to provide aid for health and education programs.

However, with Australia trying to suppress growing Chinese influence in the Pacific, the Morrison government will need to carefully weigh the request.

The unusual ask came just weeks after PNG approached China to refinance its entire national debt.

Australia has been working with the US and PNG to upgrade the strategically significant deepwater port at Manus Island into a key staging point into Asia.

The base will host Australian and US naval ships as part of a deal signed with PNG, and is seen as a potential counter to China's rising influence in the contested South China Sea.

The Australian navy and air force have also been involved in training PNG forces and overhauling local aircraft, and four patrol boats are set to be gifted to the Pacific nation.

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