Australia outlines national strategy to boost trade and investments with Southeast Asia
Key sectors highlighted in the document include agriculture, energy security, clean energy transition, infrastructure, education, digital economy and tourism.
Australia has outlined a new national strategy for greater trade and investment with Southeast Asia, along with initiatives to boost economic ties between the two regions.
This comes as Southeast Asian nations’ growth has outpaced the “lacklustre” level of economic engagement from Australia, said Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
The strategy was launched by Mr Albanese on Wednesday (Sep 6) on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and the ASEAN Indo-Pacific Forum.
The document sets out Australia’s agenda to increase two-way trade and investment with the ASEAN region between now and 2040.
Key sectors highlighted in the report include agriculture, energy security, clean energy transition, infrastructure, education, digital economy and tourism.
“Southeast Asia is experiencing remarkable growth. It will be the world's next economic powerhouse, the world's fourth largest economy by 2040,” said Mr Albanese.
However, Australia's trade and investment with the Southeast Asian region has not kept pace with the growth of the bloc’s economies, he said.
“We can do much more. We are determined to fix this and to maximise the opportunities that can exist for our regions.”
Last year, two-way trade between Australia and ASEAN was worth more than A$178 billion (US$113 billion), while investment totalled some $307 billion (US$195 billion).
Australian Special Envoy for Southeast Asia Nicholas Moore said that awareness for potential business opportunities between the two regions needs to be raised.
He hopes recommendations in the strategy can help Australian trade catch up with ASEAN’s growth, as well as boost foreign direct investments from Australia in the region.
“A lot of (Australia’s) trade and investment have been focused on China, Europe and the United States. The awareness of the Southeast Asian region hasn't been as great as it could be,” he told CNA’s Asia Now from Jakarta on Thursday, the final day of the ASEAN Summit.
“Hence, our number one group of recommendations focus on how we can increase awareness of the opportunities in the Southeast Asian region, and also how the region can see Australia and the opportunities we can offer.”
The strategy comes with 75 recommendations, of which three were adopted by the Australian government on the day of the launch.
Mr Albanese pledged US$60 million to boost the initiatives to deepen cooperation with the regional bloc.
They include teams based in Southeast Asia to identify and support opportunities for Australian investors, setting up a business exchange programme to boost two-way trade, as well as a young professionals’ exchange initiative to build business links.
The other recommendations will be studied and progress will be reviewed annually by Australia’s foreign and finance ministries to ensure the strategy stays on track.
Mr Moore said there are still blockages to people and investment flow between Australia and Southeast Asia, adding that systems need to be put in place for easier access, such as recognising qualifications across the regions.
One of the document’s recommendations calls for the Australian government to make it easier for Southeast Asian businesses to operate there, including via reform of the migration system. On the issue of more accessible visas, Mr Albanese said that his administration is currently undertaking a comprehensive migration review.
During the ASEAN summit, the Australian prime minister also emphasised the importance of the grouping to Australia.
“The centrality of ASEAN is vital to Australia's future, because Australia and ASEAN are bound by more than an accident of geography or the virtue of history. We share a common belief in the opportunities of this region, the potential of our people,” he said.
“Australia's economic future is with Southeast Asia.”
He invited the bloc's leaders to visit Melbourne next year for a special summit commemorating the 50th anniversary of ASEAN-Australia dialogue relations.