AUSTRALIA will have a fundamental shift in its export profile in coming decades with the expanding middle class in Asia driving demand for a new range of supplies.
This will lift demand for gas and base metals - copper and nickel - from Australia, which will eclipse the demand growth expected for iron ore and coal, both of which are used in first-stage industrialisation when the need for steel surges.
Australia's mining industry expertise will also drive orders for its industrial machinery from mining provinces in Asia, Latin America and Africa.
This sector will emerge as the third prong in future export growth, after energy and base metals, according to a forecast from HSBC and Oxford Economics.
Malaysia will emerge as one of our biggest markets, beating out the US to emerge as the No.5 destination for Australia's exports, trailing only China, Japan, Korea and India.
This projection comes as commodity analysts tip weakness in iron ore prices for the balance of 2013 amid slowing demand growth from China, which will flow on to coal prices and place renewed pressure on mining company earnings.
"There will be a structural shift" in Australia's export profile, head of commercial banking at HSBC Australia James Hogan said.
"Rather than focusing on steel manufacturing, there will be a shift towards the supply of materials for producing high-end consumer goods, so this will boost demand for copper and nickel, and also energy.
"There will be a degree of volatility . . . but the trend is clear."
Asia, which already accounts for more than 70 per cent of Australia's exports, up from around 50 per cent in 2000, is expected to have an even greater focus with HSBC and Oxford Economics forecasting this will top 80 per cent by the end of the decade.
"The trend will continue to 2030, with further concentration on Asia," Mr Hogan said.
This will be underscored by countries such as Vietnam, which will emerge as a significant new destination for Australian exports, which are forecast to grow by 8 per cent to 9 per cent a year over the next 15 years or so.
This will put it ahead of the forecast growth in Australian exports to China, where annual growth will slow to around 7 per cent a year between 2020 and 2030, from around 9 per cent at present.
Australia is already the sixth-largest producer globally of copper, exporting around 2 million tonnes annually, with large mines at Mount Isa and Olympic Dam. It has the dominant position in nickel, with around a third of the global reserves of the metal.
BHP is one of Australia's largest nickel producers, with mines at Mount Keith and Leinster, along with refineries and smelters.