by Christian Edwards
SYDNEY, Jan 31. (Xinhua) -- Australian companies are leading the latest bull-rush into China, with leading economists supporting a survey of Australian business leaders here overwhelmingly in favor of expanding commercial ties into China and China's booming western region - for 2013.
Saul Eslake, chief economist of the Bank of America Merrill Lynch in Australia and New Zealand, told Xinhua that China's economy 'bottomed' in the third quarter of last year, and believes the economy will record an 8.3 percent annual growth in the first half of 2013 good news for Australia's export driven economy which is reaping the benefits of China's renewed pursuit of policies and reforms that promote financial stability.
"From an Australian perspective, strong but stable economic growth in China, our largest trading partner, is very much in Australia's interests," Eslake said.
The economic mood in Australia has brightened significantly with the summer data clearly showing China's resource-hungry economy is moving into a sustained turnaround.
ANZ bank (Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd) struck an agreement this month with China's largest payments system operator UnionPay, allowing ANZ customers access to UnionPay networks in the Asia-Pacific.
ANZ is the third Australian bank after the National Australia Bank Ltd and Commonwealth Bank to leverage UnionPay's ATM and merchant network which represent a key source of tourism revenue in Australia.
"It makes sense for ANZ to partner with UnionPay International and make it easier for our customers to make payments as they travel and conduct business through the region," said ANZ's Australian head, Philip Chronican, in a statement to Xinhua.
Released this week, the Australia China Business Perceptions Survey found 69 percent of respondents were optimistic about China 's economy and 66 percent were positive about the outlook for their own organization within it.
Heartened by a Christmas spirit imbued with positive economic numbers, 24 percent of the Sweeney Research businesses surveyed said they were "extremely likely" to expand their existing physical presence in China, while a further 29 percent were "very likely" to do so.
The survey confirmed that most Australian businesses operating in China are positive about the country's economic outlook.
They believe further economic reform will create avenues for expansion, and expect greater economic and political stability following China's recent leadership transition.
Eslake agrees that the economic stability stemming from 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China late last year has bolstered confidence in Australian business sectors.
"While Australia has benefited significantly from rapid increases in China's demand for iron ore, coal, natural gas and other commodities, Australia's interests are not well served by a volatile or unsustainable growth rate in China, or by 'stop go' economic policies prompted by periodic outbreaks of inflation."
Bank of America Merrill Lynch regards China's medium term growth outlook is more favorable than that of nearly all other ' emerging' economies. To say nothing of the world's 'developed' economies.
Eslake noted, "Australia would be very vulnerable to any abrupt slowdown in China's economy caused by the build-up of unsustainable financial or other imbalances in the Chinese economy similar to those which developed in the United States and Europe leading up to the onset of the global financial crisis."
While China's Guangdong, Shanghai and Jiangsu remain the favored destinations for Australian investment, Australian businesses are also searching further afield and importantly into China's west - including Chengdu of Sichuan and Chongqing.
Australian firms have invested well over 350 million Australian dollars in Sichuan - mainly in Chengdu's building materials, clean technologies, food and beverage industry, and financial services.
In his last visit across China's booming west and the established east coast metropolises, Tim Harcourt, the JW Neville Fellow at the University of New South Wales School of Business, said that Australian business were ramping up their local engagement.
He told Xinhua, "I was just in Chengdu visiting Rheem, an Australian manufacturer that assembles hot water systems. They said that there was strong demand in the Chinese domestic market that supported their sales growth no matter what was happening in terms of exchange rates."
As Harcourt identified, the survey respondents said their biggest challenges in China were finding the right skilled labor, overcoming regulatory hurdles and coping with increased price competition from rivals.
"In Shanghai too, Bluescope was coping with tough competitive conditions mainly due to the scale of the Chinese market and the high rates of urbanization in China," Harcourt said.
China has swiftly become the most important export destination for Australia, while the resource-rich nation ranks as the eighth largest trade partner for China.
Remarkably, bilateral trade has grown at an average annual growth rate of 26.8 percent for more than ten years.
The economic symmetry and the growing expansion of trade ties with China has delivered both wealth and confidence to the Australian economy.
According to research by the Australia China Business Council, the average value of trade with China per Australian household between 2010 and 2011 was 13,470 Australian dollars.
Saul Eslake said that conversely the growing wealth in Chinese household incomes would provide the next boom for Australia's commodities and services sector.
"From a longer term point of view, it is also in Australia's interest to see strong sustainable growth in Chinese household incomes, and in household consumption spending, in order to improve prospects for Australia's exports of agricultural commodities and various kinds of services, including tourism, education, and financial and professional services," he said.