Free trade? One mining firm begs to differ the australian 22 may
FOR those tempted to view the free trade agreement to be signed today by Trade Minister CraigEmerson and his Malaysian counterpart Mustapa Mohamed as a business nirvana, Nick Curtishas a cautionary tale.The Sydney-based executive chairman of Lynas Corporation has spent $700 million and sevenyears building and getting approvals for a plant on Malaysias east coast to process rare earthsfrom its mine at Mount Weld, 30km north of Laverton in Western Australia.Mr Curtis thought the final of many approvals had been given by the Atomic Energy LicensingAgency in January, but the Malaysian government is withholding the permit for the factory tostart operating. A parliamentary committee has been set up by Prime Minister Najib Razak toconsider the project.The committee was focused on the process of the approvals, which Mr Curtis said Lynas hadentirely fulfilled. In late 2007, Lynas received the tick from the environmental and otherregulatory authorities, and started building the plant.``Its a 30-40 year commitment to the country at least. You dont build and then seekenvironmental approval. We have gained the permissions, spent the money, and are nowwondering where the goal posts really are, because theyve moved, Mr Curtis said.The factory is the subject of demonstrations led by local opposition MP Fuziah Salleh that havegained considerable traction in an election year in which the government faces the prospect ofdefeat for the first time since independence 55 years ago.``Fear is a powerful political tool, and they say that we are going to irradiate Malaysia. We areasked why we dont build our factory in Australia instead, Mr Curtis said.``But this is a crude question to ask in the context of a globalised economy. We chose Malaysiabecause of its infrastructure, its cost, its industrial experience and its proximity to markets, as agood global destination. And weve found the Malaysian people and environment extremelypositive to work with.He said that Lynas has already employed 350 people, all of whom are Malaysian. The mine atMount Weld is stockpiling its output of concentrate, waiting for the factory to start functioning.He said FTAs ``are only as good as governments willingness in these countries to play by theirown rules, to operate according to their own laws.The opposition on environmental grounds is especially frustrating, he said, because the plantsproducts were parts of the ``green supply chain -- as essential elements in catalytic convertersand electric cars among other technologies.