(MENAFN- Khaleej Times) For John Ajaka, the message from New South Wales is straightforward and very clear.
"We're open for business."
Ajaka - who currently serves as the Minister for Ageing, Minister for Disability Services and Minister for the Illawarra at the New South Wales Government - was in Dubai very recently accompanying a delegation from the University of Wollongong, headed by it vice-chancellor, to meet with key ministries and organisations in the UAE.
The objective of the visit was to support the growth of the University and position NSW as Australia's No. 1 state for business. The minister also observed the operations of the University of Wollongong in Dubai and was a guest speaker at its graduation ceremony.
Apart from that - especially aside from giving his analysis on how the Aussies were defeated by Pakistan in a recent cricket Test match here in Dubai - he was also here to speak even more on the various business opportunities awaiting investors in the state located on Australia's east coast.
"We value very highly the relations between New South Wales and the UAE," he starts off.
"We want to meet with a number of the major business institutes and to again increase the cooperation between our two regions," Ajaka told Khaleej Times during his recent visit to Dubai.
The minister highlighted the opportunities New South Wales boasts of, particularly in various infrastructure developments, and how they are dead serious on their intention of bringing in more business into the state, something "we'd like to encourage".
"When Barry O'Farrell became Premier of New South Wales [in March 2011]," Ajaka says, "he made a very important statement: he wanted to resonate not only within Australia, but to resonate internationally, that New South Wales is open for business." He stresses that the current premier, Mike Baird - who was Treasurer in the O'Farrell government and assumed office in April this year - has maintained that position. "We at the government are aware of the great benefits for the citizens of New South Wales when there is good business activity."
A$85b worth of opportunities
As of last week, Ajaka says, economic indicators have declared New South Wales - once again - as the No. 1 state Down Under, and this is all due to the increase in business activity within in. He said that from roads and rails to hospitals and other structures, the state has made it clear that it is putting a premium focus on the main infrastructure projects, and that record spending is on the cards.
And for starters, in the next five years, Ajaka points out that the anticipated amount of new infrastructure projects in New South Wales is pegged at a whopping A$85 billion - a large part of this, he says, is aimed at private-public partnerships. And with that huge figure, there's also even more words of encouragement from Ajaka.
"What I remind investors is that when you look at investment returns in New South Wales, they are exceptional," he said.
"And if [UAE investors are] looking for assistance from the government when doing business with New South Wales, our Trade and Investment Office here in the UAE will help them in 'opening the doors'."
The New South Wales Government has had a presence in the UAE for more than five years and is headed by Moin Anwar, Trade and Investment Commissioner. The UAE office has played a key role in facilitating significant investments into New South Wales and promoting UAE business opportunities to companies in New South Wales.
"The New South Wales Trade and Investment Office indeed makes it easier for potential or interested investors to know more about the state," he says.
"We recognised that there is a strong synergy between the UAE and New South Wales; we're well aware of the trade with Australia as a whole, but we want to encourage the investment to be with New South Wales so that's why we opened an office here," he says.
Going into specifics, Ajaka says that the leasing of two major ports in New South Wales - the Port of Kembla and Port of Botany Bay - was completed. A third one, the Port of Newcastle, was also recently transacted. Part of the shareholding of the Port of Kembla lease, he pointed out, is owned by the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority.
A major project that has yet to be proceeded with is the building of the Maldon-Domarton freight line, which alone would cost approximately A$800 million. Ajaka says that the government had already sent out invitations for registration of interest to investors to build the remaining sections of the freight line.
Another big development is the leasing of 49 per cent of what is dubbed as the "poles and wires" electricity network; the government estimates and approximate return of A$20 billion, which in turn would be reinvested in other major infrastructure projects - a "great opportunity for overseas investors", as Ajaka put it.
When asked on what would be the ultimate value of all infrastructure developments in New South Wales in the horizon, Ajaka offered some words of wisdom. "It's like asking, 'how long is a piece of string?'," he said. "I personally believe that you shouldn't put a limit on the amount of investment you are seeking." "What is important is that" [you're able] to justify the amount of investment to come in and, of course, the appropriate return to your investors."
Going back to relations between the UAE and New South Wales, Ajaka had the same take: there is no limit to what can be done. He cited the partnership between Emirates and Qantas - even taking it several notches higher. "From our perspective - for two great airlines to work together - this is a great opportunity not only for the UAE and Australia, but for the entire world" it's relationships such as Emirates and Qantas that would enhance business opportunities," he says.
Ajaka is confident that cooperation between the UAE and New South Wales is not just on the right track, but more importantly marching towards a very bright future.
"Premier Baird is a great believer in increasing trade and investment opportunities between our regions," he says. "We're thrilled to be part of what we consider a great relationship between the UAE and New South Wales - and we want to see that continue."
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