Australian medallions woo Asian gold lovers

Sue Green

GOLD Corp, the Western Australian government-owned company that runs the Perth Mint, is pushing to expand Asian demand for Australian gold.

To add value to the basic bullion sold in its major Asian markets - Hongkong, Singapore and Japan - it is producing medallions incorporating Chinese zodiac and religious symbols and has charged its two-member Hongkong office with developing a market for the medallions in Taiwan.

''The corporation's research suggested there was considerable scope to increase exports of precious metals with value added into these traditional markets and into new markets not currently receiving significant quantities of Australian precious metals,'' said Gold Corp chairman Tom Lang.

The company has just opened a Bangkok office. In Thailand, deregulation of its previously closed gold market is well advanced.

Gold Corp has established a gold kilobars market there and is working on selling gold coins and medallions.

Mr Ron Barry of Gold Corp said three other Asian countries had been identified as the next targets. He refused to name them, but said they did not include China.

However, the company is positioning itself to take advantage of any easing in Chinese market regulations.

It is bringing three Chinese journalists to the Australian Gold Conference to be held in Kalgoorlie in Western Australia on March 10 and 11.

The conference will celebrate the centenary of the discovery of the so-called Golden Mile, one of the world's richest gold reefs.

The journalists attending are Mr Li Chaoji of the Guangzhou Daily News, Ms Li Yi of GD Hongkong Information Daily and Mr Huang Shouging of Yangcheng Evening News.

''The Chinese market is said to be the fastest growing in the world. But it is an informal market - mostly smuggling,'' Mr Barry said.

''It is not a very open market but there are huge quantities of gold going in there. One of the things we are looking to do is to try to establish some sort of conduits into that part of the world but we don't have them yet, though for all we know some of our stuff could be going in there.'' Gold Corp's Asian push comes as figures show that the Australian gold industry is more vibrant than at any time in the past five years , spurred on by big discoveries. The gold index has gained 13 per cent since the start of the year.

Production in 1992 was 225 tonnes, slightly lower than the 226 tonnes in 1991 - which analysts attribute to the large amount of production being privatised by overseas takeovers of formerly listed producers that now have no reporting requirements.