Merzak Belhimeur, Ambassador of Algeria to Australia, has chalked out an ambitious roadmap to give impetus to Algeria-Australia political dialogue and bilateral trade and economic relations.
“Algeria and Australia have good friendly political and diplomatic relations based on mutual respect. Australia has recognized Algeria as a sovereign state, immediately at its independence, in 1962. Since then, we have not registered any issue of disagreement in the diplomatic level, either bilaterally or multilaterally”, Ambassador Merzak told Vibe Media in his first exclusive interview. That talk coincided with the commemoration of the 59th anniversary of the accession of Algeria to independence, on 05th of July 1962.
Mr Merzak, who took charge in December 2019, as ambassador, emphasized that time has come to relaunch the political consultation mechanism set up during the visit of Mr. Bob Carr, Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs, to Algeria in 2012. The first meeting of this mechanism, which took place in Algiers in November 2016, gave the opportunity to consider a lot of issues of common interest like the fight against terrorism, the conflicts in some areas, climate change, etc.
“Now, it is appropriate to propose a date for the second session of this mechanism to discuss all issues of common interest”, he said.
He also called to relaunch the consultations for the creation of the parliamentary friendship Group at the level of the parliaments of the two countries.
He lamented that his ambitious program has, unfortunately, been somewhat disrupted by the covid-19 pandemic, but we hope to implement it as soon as the sanitary situation improves.
Algerian Ambassador shared that at the economic and commercial level, we have intensified meetings and contacts with Australian business leaders and businessmen to make them better aware of the promising potential of the Algerian market and the existing investment opportunities, particularly in the field of mining. Algeria is participating in as much as possible business events, such as the Africa Down Under conference which will take place in Perth in September 2021.
“We also aim to the establishment of a business council, and a draft protocol of cooperation between the Algerian Export Promotion Agency (Algex) and the Australian Trade Agency (Austrade) is currently under consideration”, he disclosed.
Algerian Ambassador is keen to strengthen the trade and economic ties with Australia. In 2019, the volume of trade was A$850 million, and in 2020, despite the covid 19 pandemic impact, it was AUD 660 million.
“Algeria as the second most important partner of Australia in Africa, after South Africa. We are convinced that there is a great desire and space for improvement”, he remarked.
Algerian market is not new for Australian investors. In the last decade BHP Billiton and AGM participated in the field of exploration of oil and gas and gold. Presently, TERRAMIN Australia (Mediterranean zinc joint venture “WMZ” with the Algerian public companies ENOF and ORGM) is active with its gigantic project to exploit the zinc deposit in the north of Algeria, at Oued Amizour in Bejaia and whose production is expected to be around 250,000 tons of zinc concentrate per year.
Similarly in the hydrocarbons field, BHP Billiton is acting in Algeria under contract with Sonatrach until 2026. In the sector of service delivery, “Worley parsons”, one of the world leaders in engineering and expertise has signed, in 2020, a contract with Sonatrach, for a period of five years, as part of the“SH2030 development Plan”.
“In view of the potential of our economies and importance of our trade and economic cooperation, Algerian embassy is intensifying its contacts with various Australian companies with the view to attract their interest to establish partnership with Algerian counterparts based on the “win-win” formula”, Ambassador Merzak said.
Algerian Ambassador invited the Australian companies to invest in exploration of rare earths, as the information provided by some media, Algeria ranked third place in the world. The global demand for this resource has exploded with the electronics industry (computers, smartphones, medical equipment etc.)
Besides, Algerian government is actively engaged in economic diversification away from oil and gas by encouraging domestic and foreign investments in mining and metal industry. Algeria is endowed with a lot of mineral resources, particularly iron ore, zinc, and gold. The potential of iron ore reserves is estimated at 3,5 million tonnes located in the South-West (Gara Djebilet), which is considered as the largest reserves in the Arab World; Gold, whose potential reserves are estimated at three million ounces, located in the South (Tamanrasset); Phosphate, in the east of the country; zinc, whose potential reserves estimated at 150 million tonnes, located in the North (Bejaia).
“We believe that Australia has all the technical and financial as well as managerial capabilities to be a good partner in mining, metal and renewable energy sectors”, he said adding existence of favorable economic factors, like proximity to a huge European market, functional and modern infrastructures, a skilled, young and competitive workforce, competitive and advantageous production costs are making Algeria an attractive destination for investors.
Algerian ambassador also shown keen interest in promoting exchange of experiences in the techniques of raising livestock and its feeding, cereal cultivation, especially as our demand for food is increasing proportionally to the rapid increase of the Algerian population.
Sharing further details of his ambitious plan, Ambassador Merzak said that at the cultural level, we have a plan to organize cultural events (such as the Algerian Craft Week) and participate in many cultural events organized in Australia and encourage Australians to do the same in Algeria.
“We will also explore the training opportunities offered by the Australian government and conclude a cooperation agreement between the diplomatic institutes of the two countries”, he added.
On a question, Ambassador Merzak agreed that that the absence of Australian diplomatic representation is not helping in our efforts to boost the bilateral relations at all levels, either economically or politically.
“An Australian presence in Algeria, whatever form it could take, will constitute a value added to these efforts. Algeria is located at the crossroad of Africa, the Mediterranean area, the Arab world”, he argued.
He was of the view that Australian representation will help Australian businessmen and investors to a better knowledge of the Algerian market potentialities as well as provide them any assistance when needed. And on the political side, both countries, which are playing a pivotal role in their respective subregions and have ambitions to play a role at the global level, should establish a diplomatic framework that could help them maintain a permanent dialogue for their best mutual understanding of the various challenges the world is facing.
For those reasons, we are keep trying to convince our Australian friends that they are welcome any time in Algeria, the Ambassador concluded the talk.