by Xu Haijing
CAINS, Australia, Nov. 20 (Xinhua) -- A high-level investment forum is being held here on Monday as part of the Australian government's effort to attract more foreign investment to develop the country's comparatively underdeveloped north.
The Northern Australian Investment Forum, the second of its kind, was inaugurated in the tropical city of Cains, where more than 500 delegates from 21 countries and regions gathered for the biannual event.
The first Northern Australian Investment Forum was held in Darwin, Northern Territory, in November 2015.
Ning Jizhe, vice chairman of China's National Development and Reform Commission, said in his keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the forum that China's Belt and Road Initiative has received positive response from the international community since it was first proposed in 2013.
So far, China has established capacity and investment cooperation mechanism with 36 countries and set up third country market cooperation mechanism with many countries including Australia.
The Australia government's plan to develop its north and China's Belt and Road Initiative have strong commonality and alignment, providing good opportunities for Sino-Australian investment cooperation, he said.
Northern Australia covers the whole Northern Territory and parts of Queensland and Western Australia. It comprises only 5 percent of Australia's 24 million population yet 40 percent of the land mass of the world's sixth largest country by area.
There are 17 million hectares of arable soil in the north. The resource-rich north also accounts for 90 percent of Australia's gas reserves.
"There is no doubt that there are opportunities from alignment between Australia's initiatives and China's Belt and Road Initiative. The Belt and Road Initiative is going to be for China a game changer. Australia is having its own initiatives that are undertaking. Clearly there are complementarity between for example Northern Australia initiative and China's Belt and Road Initiative," Steven Ciobo, minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, said when answering questions from Xinhua at a press conference during the forum on Monday.
Ning proposed to promote China-Australia investment cooperation further in three areas: catering to the demands of Chinese and Asian market and promoting investment and development of northern Australia; taking into account the economic structural adjustment, upgrading bilateral investment; encouraging businesses to conduct third country market cooperation.
"The Australian government has big agenda in attracting investment in northern Australia. I'm sure there are many opportunities that Australian businesses and government can be partnering with Chinese businesses and the Chinese government in our shared goal of developing northern Australia," said Matt Canawan, minister for Resources and Northern Australia.
"More than 500 delegates being here is a testimony to the attractiveness and opportunities existing here in northern Australia. There is a great degree of interest in partnering with all northern Australians and the Australian government and state and territory government to the level of opportunities existed for northern Australia."
"At the government level, we put aside more than 11 billion Australian dollars (8.3 billion U.S. dollars) to invest in infrastructure, from Bruce Highway to Northern Australian Infrastructure Facility, to other strategic roads right across northern Australia. But we need to multiply that amount to really develop the North," said Canawan.
Ciobo said foreign investment into Australia is critical.
"Yes, we are a rich country. Yes, we have a strong domestic savings pool. But the fact is, if we want to reach our full economic potential, if we are going to drive the Australian economy, if we want to create jobs not only for northern Australia but across Australian economy, we must have foreign investment. That's consistent with our national interest to make sure our country can reach its full potential."
The forum lasts two days and will end on Tuesday.
Canawan said the first forum did lead to the investment in Darwin Port and investment in the Ord River agriculture district in Western Australia.
"We are hopeful we are getting similar outcome from this conference today."