The warning comes just days before the three-day 2012 Africa Down Under conference is set to kick off in Perth.
With an estimated 280 Australian resources and supplier companies currently represented across African projects, convenor Bill Repard said Australia’s position in the resource-rich country was coming under a new kind of pressure.
“Post GFC, modernising super economies, their hunger for sustainable sources of mineral and energy supply, and their depth of investment reserves, mean that Australia’s own capital adequacy to invest in and compete in Africa’s mining upside, is under competitive pressure,” he said.
Repard said Africa was increasingly becoming a keen bidder for China-based resources funds and other mineral hungry economies such as India were also setting their sights on gaining a foothold in the country.
“Whereas once Australia’s explorers and miners were sector leaders in Africa’s resources investment, mine development, and assisting with associated infrastructure and social and community growth, some of that space is now being commanded by overseas players,” Repard said.
“China for example, is already exhibiting a higher profile than Australia in Africa’s value-adding mining opportunities such as downstream processing compared to simple mine development and ore extraction.”
Australia could bolster its position and commendable reputation in Africa by strengthening the level of government interface between the two continents.
In addition, Repard believes Australian government trade and expertise could assist Africa’s resources sector in dismantling cross-border trading with Africa.
Repard noted the huge impact Australia has had on Africa in diversifying its minerals profile from a gold, copper and uranium rich country to proving up other specialty commodities such as potash, manganese, coal and rare earths.
However, a lack of established infrastructure in the country was still proving to be a downside when it came to investing in Africa.
“A barrier to Africa’s mining sector growth is poor infrastructure in the key areas of road, rail, water and power,” Repard said.
“Yet that is an area in which Australian expertise excels, so potential economies of scale for mining-related infrastructure could be achieved through removing inter-country barriers to such project investment.”
Africa Down Under, which will kick off next Wednesday, has attracted about 2500 delegates, including 17 African resources ministers and mining department heads.
Australia’s Foreign Affairs minister Bob Carr will open the event, while Resources Minister Martin Ferguson will also make an appearance.
This article first appeared in ILN's sister publication MiningNews.net.