Australia Now is the diplomatic flagship program of the Australian government. Every year, the government will select one region of particular strategic importance and launch a program to “strengthen and deepen bilateral ties, raise Australia’s profile as an innovative, creative nation and build understanding beyond our landscape and lifestyle.”
The goal is to build political and economic ties for the future. In 2018, the program was held in Japan; in 2017 it was held in Germany. During the 2018 ASEAN Summit, Australia’s Foreign Minister announced Southeast Asia as the focus region in 2019.
Australia’s government is trying to establish a stronger connection with the ASEAN economies. Likewise, ASEAN institutions encourage SMEs via specialized capacity building programs and information platforms to increasingly venture into international markets.
ASEAN’s importance in international trade is growing
The ASEAN region has emerged as one of Australia’s major trade partners over the past ten years. Australia has a bilateral free trade agreement with ASEAN and with individual ASEAN countries. In the meantime, the two-way trade volume of more than AUD 93 billion exceeds Australia’s trade with the U.S. and Japan.
After a decade of rapid trade growth, ASEAN accounts for 11.5 per cent of Australia’s exports and 16.1 per cent of imports. ASEAN is also the largest source of export revenue for Australian small and medium-sized exporters. Australia’s most significant exports to ASEAN are education-related travel and crude petroleum.
Moreover, there are strong people-to-people links. Nearly one million Australians claim ancestral ties with an ASEAN country and speak an ASEAN language.
Thus, Australia Now’s ASEAN focus in 2019 reflects the region’s increasing importance in international trade. The fact that Australia has chosen the entire economic area instead of a single country shows that the world is increasingly looking at ASEAN as a unified economic block.
In just over a decade, ASEAN is predicted to be the fourth-largest economy in the world. ASEAN is also the world’s fastest-growing eCommerce market. It is therefore likely that the region will in future attract more interest from governments and corporations worldwide.
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