At the first annual ASEAN-Australia Leaders Summit, held in October 2021, both sides underscored the importance of the relationship. Australia described how it would invest A$154 million into future cooperation, via a number of measures. 2
These include an ASEAN Futures Initiative that will support projects, with A$124 million of funding, to address complex challenges facing the region – such health and energy security, promoting the circular economy, and fighting crime. In addition, Australia aims to provide 100 scholarships for ASEAN students to help advance focal points of cooperation, like sustainable development.
Closer ties will build on strong foundations. In 2020, trade between ASEAN and Australia reached A$242 billion.3 There is also a free trade agreement between ASEAN, Australia and New Zealand.
Australian trade with ASEAN, along with the broader Asia region, will be boosted by the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which came into force at the start of 2022. This is the world’s largest free trade agreement and the Australian government acknowledges that the agreement will “further strengthen Australia’s trade relationship with ASEAN at a crucial point in ASEAN’s economic development”.4
Australian companies are highly active across ASEAN. Not only are nine of the bloc’s members among Australia’s top trading partners, accounting for 58% of its two-way trade, 5 while 60 of the country’s largest 100 companies have subsidiaries in the trading bloc.6 The companies represent a wide range of industries – from mining and manufacturing to services.
The case for doing business in ASEAN is clear. The combined population of its member states is 660 million people, making it the third largest consumer base in the world, after China and India. 7 Sustained economic growth means that these young and digital savvy consumers are increasingly affluent and able to buy a growing range of goods. At the same time, the region has significant infrastructure needs, which require a steady supply of resources.