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Austrade forum to promote links with oil giant Saudi Aramco condemned by activists

A government meet-and-greet to connect Australian industry with the world’s largest oil company, Saudi Aramco, has been criticised by environmental groups as “akin to a joint trade show with a tobacco major”.

Australia’s international trade agency Austrade will host the event, “Doing business with Aramco 2023”, next Friday at the Duxton Hotel in Perth.

The in-person event is pitched to companies in the oil and gas supply chain and petrochemical industries, and “will include bilateral business matching meetings, where Australian exporters will have the opportunity to showcase their capabilities to Aramco”.

“The forum will provide a platform for Australian exporters to gain first-hand understanding of Aramco, its business opportunities, and the pathway to access those opportunities,” the event description says.

Saudi Aramco is the world’s largest oil company, posting a $161bn profit in March – the largest ever profit recorded by an oil and gas firm.

The company is 98.5% owned by the Saudi Arabian government and is also the most polluting oil company of all time – a recent analysis found that if oil companies were made to pay reparations for their contribution to climate change, Aramco would owe $43bn a year.

Dorinda Cox, a Greens senator, said the event showed the federal government had the wrong priorities.

“Net zero means moving rapidly away from coal, oil and gas, not seeking out future partnerships with another petrostate,” she said.

“The Australian government should be spending money on the urgent housing crisis, not paying for the world’s richest oil company and biggest polluter to network and mingle.”

Glenn Walker, head of advocacy and strategy at Greenpeace Australia Pacific, said Aramco’s contribution to increasing the risk posed by climate change made it inappropriate for the Australian government to host the event.

“Fossil fuel companies like Aramco are knowingly fuelling dangerous global heating. This company should not be given a platform supported by the Australian government,” Walker said.

“It is akin to a joint trade show with a tobacco major and should be roundly rejected by the minister for trade.”

Austrade did not respond to questions about concerns about the event but said in a statement that the showcase will “provide Australian energy sector businesses with an opportunity to showcase their expertise and explore potential future business opportunities.”

“Austrade is also committed to driving uptake of opportunities for exporters and investors linked to a net-zero emissions future,” the agency said.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has previously said limiting global heating to 1.5C as set out in the Paris agreement meant there can be no new oil, gas or coal investment beyond 2021. The IPCC has made similar statements.

Reece Whitby, Western Australia’s minister for environment and climate action, visited Saudi Arabia last year to address a meeting of the International Energy Forum.

During the visit he also met the Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs and envoy for climate, Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir.

A spokesperson for WA’s environment department said neither the minister nor the department had any role in arranging the Austrade event.

Sophie McNeill, a Human Rights Watch Australia researcher, said the organisation had “deep concerns” about the Saudi government’s track record on human rights “including executions, torture, the targeting and punishment of dissidents and critics, and the treatment of women.”

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