THE Australian Government should step up diplomatic efforts in oil-rich Libya so it could compete for business with other western countries in the North African country, according to WA traders.
Libya was a trading partner with WA - mainly in grain, meat and live cattle exports - but business dried up after United Nations sanctions were imposed due to Libya¹s connection with a Pan Am airliner bombing over Lockerbie.
Libya agreed to a settlement for victims of the Lockerbie air disaster. It announced last month that it would destroy all weapons of mass destruction.
Australia restored diplomatic relations with Libya in June 2002.
Several WA companies, including meat processors and exporters, attended an international trade fair in Tripoli last month to gauge business prospects.
Floreat Meat Exporters managing director Carl Wheeler said 1000 people a day passed through Libya's trade fair, which he attended to find business to compensate for loosing markets to EU expansion.
"We believe and hope there is a long term opportunity for business in Libya,² he said. "So for the markets we have lost we might pick up one or two importers from Libya and have a long term relationship."
Mr Wheeler said Libya was not short of money and had huge potential for Australian exporters, not only for red meat.
Libya was also safe, had good roads and the people were friendly and helpful.
"Give Libya another 10 years and it could be another Dubai if they get the right infrastructure and the right sort of direction," he said.
"It is probably safer than Singapore and that's saying something," he said. "It is way ahead of Egypt."
He said it was taking time to get conformation of a letter of credit from Libya through the banking system but he expected the process to run more smoothly after the first business transaction had been completed.
Mr Wheeler said it was imperative Australia stepped up diplomatic activity in Libya if it wanted to capitalise on the trade opportunities.
"We have to move on Libya because there is some great business for us there," he said.
Mr Wheeler said it was a pity Federal Agriculture Minister Warren Truss did not take the opportunity to go to Libya when he was in the Middle East this month.
Agriculture Department Middle Eastern trade manager Besko Trhulj, who represented the State Government at the trade fair, said Libya imported about 70pc of its food and had the potential to be a good long term market for WA.
WA was the only State Government represented at the trade fair and it was possible WA would open a trade office with Austrade in Libya.
A Libya-US conference in Washington on July 14-15 will bring together high-ranking officials and corporate leaders to discuss the return of US business to the North African country.
Most US sanctions against Libya were only lifted last month.