By Jane Duke, Australia’s Ambassador to ASEAN
2017 was a milestone year for Australian business engagement in ASEAN. In ASEAN’s 50th anniversary year, two Australian business chambers were established with a regional focus, reflecting the increased recognition in business circles of the exciting opportunities in ASEAN.
In just 15 years, ASEAN’s combined economy has quadrupled to US$2.6 trillion, and its average economic growth of about 4.5 per cent, makes ASEAN one of the top three centres of global growth. With a growing population of over 630 million people, young working age population and rising middle class, ASEAN has just the right metrics to underpin continued economic dynamism.
Forward-looking Australian businesses are increasingly looking to ASEAN to expand their trade and investment. As a bloc, ASEAN now accounts for 14 per cent of Australia’s total trade and $224 billion in two-way investment.
“AustCham ASEAN provides a valuable forum to engage on matters that influence the direction of Australian business in the region” – Anna Green, CEO ANZ Philippines
To assist Australian businesses in making the most of the ASEAN opportunity, the Australia-ASEAN Chamber of Commerce (AustCham ASEAN) was set up last year. Australian Prime Minister, the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP, officially launched the ‘chamber of chambers’ with its membership base the officially registered Australian chambers and business councils from across ASEAN, in June. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Trade, Tourism and Investment Minister Steven Ciobo have supported launches of AustCham ASEAN chapters in the region.
AustCham ASEAN will help Australian businesses by providing up-to-date information on regional integration developments, highlighting the contribution Australian business brings to ASEAN markets and advocating for policies, rules, and regulations that support Australian business activities in ASEAN.
AustCham ASEAN kicked off its advocacy responsibilities by providing, for the first time in nearly 15 years, direct feedback from Australian businesses to ASEAN Economic Ministers at the annual meeting of ministers from ASEAN, Australia and New Zealand, in September. ASEAN Ministers have requested feedback from Australian businesses become a regular part of the meeting agenda.
I have participated in panels with business leaders in Bangkok, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to launch local chapters of AustCham ASEAN and discuss the findings of its highly regarded business survey.
The 2017 Doing Business in ASEAN Survey shows that ASEAN’s appeal centres on its growing consumer class, improving infrastructure and economic integration. While businesses continue to report challenges associated with operating in the region, including investment hurdles and access to skilled labour, 62 per cent of Australian businesses surveyed said they had expanded their trade and investment in the region over the past two years and 86 per cent were planning further expansion in ASEAN in the medium term. Businesses also saw value in learning more about Australia’s FTAs with the region, including the Australia-New Zealand-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement, and the ASEAN Economic Community.
A second business council is complementing the work of AustCham ASEAN in developing regional links and raising the profile of the business opportunities in ASEAN. The Australia-ASEAN Business Council (AABC), based in Brisbane, recently hosted a delegation of senior ASEAN business leaders in a two day visit to Australia organized by the ASEAN Business Club.
In addition to the ASEAN Business Club, AABC has established links to the ASEAN Entrepreneurs Network and a range of Australian-based business chambers and peak bodies. Collectively, the work of AABC and AustCham ASEAN is changing the landscape of our private sector engagement with ASEAN, giving it a new, stronger voice in the region.
This private sector-led work to enhance our relationship with ASEAN is being supported by important Government initiatives. In March 2018, Prime Minister Turnbull will host the ten ASEAN leaders in Sydney for an historic ASEAN-Australia Special Summit. The Special Summit will include a high level CEO forum of 100 leading ASEAN and Australian CEOs as well as a conference and information and advice ‘market place’ for Australian SMEs.
In the lead up to the Special Summit, the ASEAN Business Advisory Council will host its first ever meeting outside ASEAN, in Sydney. In advance of these important events, Minister Ciobo recently launched ASEAN Now, a joint Austrade and DFAT resource highlighting the trade and investment opportunities available in ASEAN.
AustCham ASEAN and the Australia-ASEAN Business Council have a vital role in supporting Australian business to understand the opportunities for trade and investment with ASEAN, including the importance of developing regional strategies that reflect the diversity of its member states. I look forward to supporting both organisations and any Australian businesses seeking to engage more deeply with ASEAN.
Jane Duke is a senior career officer with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and was most recently Assistant Secretary, South-East Asia Regional Branch. She previously served overseas as Deputy High Commissioner, Malaysia and as Counsellor (Immigration) at Australia’s Permanent Mission to the UN in Geneva.