Official sees La.-Australia export opportunities

An official with the U.S. Consulate in Australia was in Mandeville on Wednesday as part of an effort to increase exports from Louisiana businesses.

Australia ranks as Louisiana’s 55th-largest trading partner. But Donna Carter, a senior commercial specialist with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s U.S. Commercial Service in Perth, said there are opportunities for Louisiana companies to do more business with the country.

“America is very well placed in the Australian oil and gas market, and Louisiana fits in this stage,” she said.

The Australian oil and gas market is younger than markets in other countries, with offshore drilling activity hitting its stride on the west coast of the country during the 1980s, Carter said.

While major firms such as Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil already have a presence in Perth, Carter said there are opportunities for small- and medium-sized American players to enter the Australian supply chain.

Australia also is set to become the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas by 2020, another fact that provides opportunities for Louisiana businesses with a great expertise in the oil and gas industry, said Brie Knox, with the Commerce Department’s U.S. Commercial Service office in New Orleans.

Carter and Knox met with a number of businesses, including companies in the oil and gas, mining, building and construction industries. The visit was hosted by the commercial service office and the St. Tammany Economic Development Foundation.

Louisiana businesses exported nearly $154 million worth of products to Australia in 2013, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration. Chemicals accounted for 48 percent of that total, while machinery, plastics, rubber products and fabricated metal products also accounted for significant amounts of trade.

Those industries all have an opportunity to increase the amount of business with Australia, Carter said, along with other sectors such as the medical industry and pet food manufacturing.

The vast distance between Louisiana and Australia and the time gap (Perth is 13 hours ahead of Louisiana) has kept trade between the two areas down. But Australia is an attractive market to American businesses. It’s a wealthy, politically stable English-speaking country, with a population of 23.4 million — larger than the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Arkansas combined. A free-trade agreement allows American products to enter Australia duty-free.

Carter said American products are highly regarded in Australia because of a reputation for quality and innovation.

“Companies that have established themselves well in America, there’s a very good chance they’ll be received well in Australia,” she said. “If you can do it here in America, there’s a good chance you can replicate it elsewhere.”