An enormous Papua New Guinea gas project can potentially put the impoverished nation on the path to economic sustainability, according to Australian Trade Minister Stephen Smith.
Mr Smith and Assistant Treasurer Nick Sherry discussed the PNG Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) project with PNG Public Enterprises Minister Arthur Somare in a Thursday meeting in Melbourne.
Approximated to cost $16 billion, the project is scheduled to begin production in 2014 and will see PNG's natural gas sold across Asia.
Energy giant ExxonMobil has a 33.2 per cent interest in the program and runs it via its subsidiary Esso Highlands Ltd. Oil Search Ltd owns 29 per cent, while the PNG government has 16.6 per cent stake.
"The LNG project is vital to Papua New Guinea's economic well-being, with the potential to put Papua New Guinea on a sustainable economic growth path," Mr Smith said in a statement after the meeting.
Santos Ltd with 13.5 per cent, Nippon Oil Exploration with 4.7 per cent, PNG landowners with 2.8 per cent, and Petromin PNG Holdings Ltd with 0.2 per cent are other key stakeholders.
According to Mr Smith, "Australia is working closely with Papua New Guinea, providing technical and advisory support as Papua New Guinea establishes sovereign wealth funds."
"Australia is in a particularly good position to assist Papua New Guinea using our recent experience with the Future and Nation-building Funds," he said.Mr Smith took over the trade portfolio this week after a reshuffle incited by Julia Gillard's ascent to federal Labor leadership.