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Australia calling attention in oil exploration, pharmaceutical research

Poster announces that Australia will present picture books at the 2007 Taipei International Book Exhibition (TIBE).
Steve Waters, a career diplomat, heads the Australian Commerce and Industry Office (ACIO) in Taipei.

Poster announces that Australia will present picture books at the 2007 Taipei International Book Exhibition (TIBE).

Steve Waters, a career diplomat, heads the Australian Commerce and Industry Office (ACIO) in Taipei.

Australia celebrates today its official national day, commemorating the first European landing back in 1788. The richly beautiful country down under has in recent years certainly gone through changes in the eyes of the people in Taiwan, including businessmen, scientists and students, owing to a certain extent to the work being carried out by the Australian Commerce and Industry Office (ACIO) in Taipei.
Search for energy sources
The Chinese Petroleum Corporation as part of a multinational consortium has gone into the exploration of certain areas for energy resources like petroleum and natural gas in Australia since last year. A need for "long-term resource security" has something to do with it. Taking out a couple of leases, it has been successful in finding petroleum deposits in one of them, said Steve Waters, the incumbent ACIO representative who would like to see more Taiwanese investment in his country.
"Taiwanese investment in Australia is unusually small given the size of our trade relations," said Waters. "Taiwanese businessmen normally tend to go into areas which promise reasonably high profits. And they are prepared to take high risks."
In contrast, Australian business persons are attracted by investment climate which has low risk just like Taiwan's. Waters described the operating environment for business in Taiwan as "sound" and the government as "continuing to implement laws to improve it."
Although China's continuing rapid growth is making every business person in Australia think about opportunities there, the relatively low risk as far as the investment climate in Taiwan is concerned is making Australian businessmen consider also its different economic structure, level of development and the opportunities, according to Waters.
Safe investment
The Macquarie Group with large financial resources due to access to superannuation fund is very interested in investing in Taiwan. According to Waters, it is looking for "investments which are not high yield but which are solid and will give consistent returns like 5 percent." Their biggest investment so far has been their purchase of Taiwan Broadband Communications for US$1.18 billion in December 2005.
"If the government is interested in privatizing assets," said Waters, "they are interested in investing."
Waters went on: "Australian companies are also involved in Taiwan's construction industry, including the Taiwan High Speed Railway (THSR) project and a major sports stadium in Taipei." The Australian engineering involvement in the THSR was worth US$200 million.
Going back to oil exploration, it calls for long-term and high investment. Initial success - usually long in coming - can be encouraging. But as Waters said, "What happens next will depend on what the consortium partners decide on. Profits, if ever, will come many years later."
Australia's leading exports
Taiwan has a policy of diversification of sources of resources, noted Waters. Australia today takes pride in "being able to supply a reasonably high percentage" of Taiwan's needs. As Waters put it, "We are a highly reliable supplier of coal, iron ore, copper and aluminum required by Taiwan's industries. Our prices and quality are good."
These, in fact, are Australia's leading exports to Taiwan, accounting in a good part for Taiwan's deficits in the bilateral trade over the years. Beef, too, is another important Australian export. Sugar, wheat and wine exports are growing, too. Pharmaceuticals are not to be ignored.
Australia's exports to Taiwan in 2006 reached US$4.5 billion, making Taiwan the 8th largest export market.
"If Taiwan's trade deficit has been growing," remarked Waters, "that's basically because of the change in the terms of trade. Australia's exports have increased in small volume. But their prices have gone up."
As for Australia's imports from Taiwan, high-tech products, notably computers, have accounted for the biggest share.
"Taiwan has benefited enormously from the production of computers and computer parts," said Waters. "But we don't know what the next generation of technology will be and who will produce it."
Australia with a population smaller than Taiwan's at 21 million and area at least 200 times that of Taiwan is looking for more cooperation with Taiwan at the scientific level, according to Waters. In fact, a delegation of presidents from Taiwan's top 12 universities led by the head of the National Taiwan University (NTU) recently went to Australia to explore such possibilities with their Australian counterparts. The arts as well as nanotechnology and biotechnology were the areas of special interest to them.
Australia, too, is known for its pharmaceutical industry. Right now, Progen's studies on PI88 - which is being eyed as a cure for liver cancer - have involved the National Taiwan University. Clinical trials are being carried out in Taipei because of the high incidence of liver cancer in the population. Progen, a company founded by Taiwanese immigrant Steven Chang, is a listed Australian company.
Educational links
Australia has launched a bigger-than-ever scholarship program worth a total of NT$13 million this year to encourage Taiwanese individuals to study and carry out research in some of Australia's areas of expertise. The 13 selected scholars will receive their grants during the Australia Day reception at the Chung Shan Hall in Taipei this evening. Their fields of study include sociology (Asian gender study), the performing arts, business professional ethics, education, vocational education and e-learning, English language testing and techniques for coal application.
"Students from Taiwan used to go to Australia only for English-learning," recalled Waters. "The trend now is to go for postgraduate work. People in Taiwan realize the kind of research being done nowadays in Australia. This has spread by word of mouth."
Taiwanese students, as many as 10,000 at any given time, go to Australia for education because of the lower cost structures when compared to those in the U.S. and Canada. Lower costs mean a margin of 25 to 30 percent.
"Parents like sending their children to Australia because it is nearer than the U.S.," pointed out Waters. "Brisbane's climate is similar to Taiwan's."
The biggest number of Taiwanese students in Australia is in Brisbane. Here can be found the biggest Taiwanese community in Australia. The estimated 20,000 headcount represents half of the entire Taiwanese community in Australia. People often have relatives there who can keep an eye on their children, explained Waters.
"The remarkable Taiwanese presence in Brisbane especially through the Fokuangshan Temple has been good for Taiwan-Australia relations," said Waters. "Many schools take their children to the temple to learn about Buddhism and Taiwan. The temple encourages such excursions and visits."
There is another big Fokuang-shan Temple in Woolongong just outside Sydney. It also attracts Australians.
Success stories involving Taiwanese immigrants in Australia are very interesting. Waters cited Gordon Fu, who has 10 shopping malls in Brisbane, as the best example.
Tourism promotion is once more being given attention. Taiwan is Australia's 12th largest source of tourists. The tourism focus is more on the incentive travel group.
"There are other places to visit other than Sydney and the Gold Coast," said Waters. "Young Taiwanese aged 21 to 30 have been allowed since three years ago to travel to Australia on a one-year visa for working holidaymaker. While in Australia, they can work."
Cultural relations
Cultural ties are promoted in the absence of official diplomatic relations. The Cloud Gate Dance Theater goes to Australia just about every year. Lin Hwai-min, the founder, used to dance with the Australian Ballet, according to Waters. The best-known Taiwan dance company will travel to Australia twice this year.
Meanwhile there is a Tasmanian artist living and working now at the Taipei Artists Village. The ongoing Australian Film Showcase at the Eslite Xinyi will wind up on January 28. Ann James, an Australian illustrator, will give talks at the Taipei International Book Exhibition (TIBE) at 5 p.m. on February 3 and at the Taipei Public Library at 2:30 p.m. on February 4. She will be at a book-reading and demonstration on the 5th floor of Eslite Xinyi on February 6. The time will be announced later.