North Australia Digest – 11/01/2013

The Australian
Key economic figures show the Chinese economy is recovering at a rate exceeding market expectations.  China’s trade surplus rose sharply last month, with export growth more than quadrupling from November, to 14.1 per cent, while imports rose by 6 per cent in a sign of increasing domestic demand. The figures add to the evidence that Australia’s largest trading partner – and key buyer of iron ore and coal – is emerging from its economic downturn.
Newly appointed Anglo American CEO Mark Cutifani has said productivity is a major concern for the mining giant and the industry in general. “In the mining industry, we’re some 20 to 30 years behind other more progressive sectors in terms of productivity and business practices,” Mr Cutifani said.
Mr Cutifani’s comments have been backed by senior executives from the Australian mining industry. Bill Beament, the managing director of Western Australian gold miner Northern Star Resources, agreed the mining industry had itself to blame for many of the productivity issues it faced. “When the boom kicked in and we needed more workers, we spread our good people over multiple operations and spread our skill base very, very thin,” he said
Australian Financial Review
WA Premier Colin Barnett has raised concerns the $30 billion Kimberley gas hub could become a casualty of pressure from green groups before the federal election this year. Both WA and QLD have warned Environment Minister Tony Burke against blocking or delaying mining projects to boost support among green voters. Mr Barnett, already seething over Mr Burke’s decision late last year to delay final approval for the Toro project, which would be the state’s first uranium mine, said the approvals process should be apolitical.
Commodity prices could continue to rise on the back of strong Chinese export growth. December data revealed Chinese iron ore imports hit a record 70.9 million tonnes, up 8 per cent on November and 11 per cent year on year. Weak sales to Europe, China’s biggest trading partner, helped push steel and other metal prices lower throughout 2012, but HSBC said exports to the region could stabilise in 2013.
The West Australian
The West Australian Government has been forced to drop charges against Apache Energy for the company’s role in the Varanus Island explosion due to a legal technicality . The incident is WA’s worst ever industrial disaster, disrupting one third of the state’s gas supply and tearing a $2.4 billion hole in the state’s economy. The Department of Mines and Petroleum estimates it will save $745,000 from halting the action.
The Northern Territory News
Decreasing export permits for Australian cattle are raising the price of beef in Indonesia, according to the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association. In response to news that export quotas would be only marginally down in 2013, compared to 2012, NTCA executive director Luke Bowen said, “While we welcome the announcement of the 2013 quota, it is a decrease on 2012 and a substantial decrease on historic figures, which appears to be significantly impacting the price and availability of beef in Indonesia, placing great pressure on the Indonesian breeder herd.” Mr Bowen said  beef prices had risen from less than $6/kg to more than $10 in the past eight months with reports record numbers of breeder cattle were being slaughtered due to the shortage of beef and high prices.