Worldwide interest has been shown in a proposal to establish a $1 billion pulp and paper mill in the South-West, Premier Carmen Lawrence said today.
So far 18 major companies from the United States, Canada, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Sweden, Finland, Germany and Australia had registered interest in the proposal.
They included consortium leaders, equity participants, technology suppliers, `turn-key' developers, pulp-marketing organisations and financiers.
"I would have been very happy with even half as many registrations of interest," Dr Lawrence said.
"The current level of interest says a lot about the quality of the project and the confidence of the international business community to invest in Western Australia."
Dr Lawrence said it was the Government's intention to have an advanced technology pulp mill established in the South-West by the end of the decade.
"During the three-year construction phase, there will be a workforce of about 1,800 on-site with off-site work for another 1,400 people," she said.
"In operation, the mill will treble the value of our existing wood fibre exports. It will also provide permanent jobs for 545 people, plus more than 2,000 jobs indirectly."
Dr Lawrence said a 450,000-tonne capacity mill would earn about $350 million annually in exports - and the figure could climb to $800 million if the mill was expanded to manufacture high quality paper.
The timber for the mill would not come from native forests but from a combination of plantation blue gums and residues from saw-milling operations.
"Every one of the companies expressing interest in the project has been made fully aware that they will be operating under the strictest environmental controls," the Premier said.
"But wood pulp technology is nothing like it used to be.
"It has advanced considerably in recent years and the antiquated chlorine gas process which used to cause pollution is no longer necessary to bleach and brighten the pulp.
"The mill in the South-West will use the most advanced technology in the world."
Dr Lawrence said the 18 companies which had expressed interest in the proposal would be making on-the-spot assessments over the next few weeks.
The Government hoped to know early in the New Year which companies were prepared to progress to detailed feasibility studies.