It is hoping to realise $5.7b in export deals with the North African nation Australia is preparing to launch an aggressive push for new export deals with Libya, just days after the North African country promised to give up its programme of banned weapons. The Australian government has been quick to capitalise on the announcement by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi that he will renounce all chemical, biological and nuclear weapons - a move which has been welcomed by Washington, London and the United Nations. The trade minister, Mark Vaile, said yesterday that trade between Australia and Libya could be worth more than A$1 billion (HK$5.7 billion) within a few years. Australia's present annual exports to Libya amount to only A$40 million. Mr Vaile said Colonel Gadaffi's renunciation of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction had 'validated' Australia's overtures towards Libya over the past two years. He said the opening up of the Libyan economy would provide new opportunities for the Australian construction and motor vehicle industries, as well as agriculture. Australia is hoping to sell Libya live cattle and sheep and even camels, which roam wild in the outback. Australia already supplies live sheep and cattle to Muslim countries across North Africa and the Middle East, where they are slaughtered according to halal customs. Libya's history as a former Italian colony produced a taste for pasta that could be advantageous to Australian grain farmers, who produce high-quality durum wheat. Canberra restored normal diplomatic relations with Tripoli in June last year. A month later, Mr Vaile became the first Australian minister - and one of the first western statesmen - to visit Libya in 15 years, leading a 20-member trade delegation on a visit aimed at strengthening commercial ties. Earlier this month, Woodside Petroleum announced a A$140 million oil and gas exploration agreement with the Libyan government, in conjunction with exploration firms from Spain and Greece. The deal followed the complete lifting of UN sanctions against Libya in September, in reward for Colonel Gadaffi accepting responsibility for the 1988 Lockerbie airliner bombing. Woodside identified Libya as a potential area for investment in 2000, and the company's enthusiasm for enhanced ties was one of the reasons that Canberra broke away from the US-led antipathy to Libya and moved early to restore diplomatic ties. Australian government officials acknowledge, however, that until the US revokes legislation that penalises American companies from trading with Libya, barriers to normal trade will remain. Analysts say the fostering of relations with Libya has put Australian companies in a better position than their counterparts in the US and Europe. Links between Australia and Libya go back to the second world war, when Australian soldiers serving with British and Commonwealth forces helped push the German army out of North Africa. Libya, which has huge oil reserves, suffered a 70 per cent decline in its gross domestic product during the 16 years of UN and US trade sanctions. Australian oil and gas companies, including BHP Billiton and Santos, have expressed interest in helping to overhaul Libya's oil industry.