ASEAN and Australia: A Strategic Partnership

By Elana Szabo

In 1969, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand signed the ASEAN Declaration and established the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Today, ASEAN has a total of 10 member countries, including Myanmar, Brunei, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, in addition to the aforementioned countries. It has a combined GDP of USD3.0 trillion and makes up 3.5% of the world’s GDP. It is estimated that by 2030 the region is set to become equivalent to the world’s fourth largest economy.

Therefore, the dynamics of ASEAN presents a number of opportunities for Australian companies. The emerging markets in Myanmar, the sophisticated economy of Singapore and the consumer centres of Indonesia and the Philippines. As such, Australian exporters and investors have become increasingly interested in the ASEAN market and what it has to offer.

ASEAN-Australia Trade Relations

ASEAN is important to Australian economic prosperity and has a large market presence for Australian companies. In 2020, Australian two-way trade with ASEAN was AUD101 billion, exceeding trade with countries such as Japan and the United States. These strong trade links between Australia and ASEAN are enhanced by regional and bilateral free trade agreements. They act as avenues for Australian businesses to enter into the ASEAN economic community. These trade agreements include the ASEAN-Australian-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.

Australian companies are also encouraged to invest in the digital economy. This is highlighted through the Australian Government’s establishment of the ASEAN-Australia Digital Trade Standards Initiative which was announced in 2018 at the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit. This initiative facilitates the cooperation of the regions to develop, adopt and use international standards to promote the use of digital trade and strengthen economic growth in the region.

Main Australian Exports into ASEAN

Australia and ASEAN have a strong trade and investment relationship as ASEAN is Australia’s key trading partner. They make up 15% of the country’s total trade and in 2016, trade between the countries amounted to AUD93.2 billion. Crude petroleum is Australia’s largest goods export, while education-related travel is Australia’s largest services export with ASEAN. This is evident through the implementation of the New Colombo Plan and the Australian Awards. 100,000 students from Southeast Asian countries have come to study in Australia between the years 2014 and 2018. Likewise, over 13,000 Australian students have been given the opportunity by the Australian Government to study or undertake internships in ASEAN countries through the New Colombo Plan.

Australia-ASEAN Council Grants: 

AUD450,000 worth of grants were available during 2020-2021 to those who have an Australian entity with an Australian Business Number (ABN), Australian Company Number (ACN), or Indigenous Corporation Number (ICN). The purpose of these grants is to facilitate global engagement during the pandemic where restrictions limit the opportunities for travel and face-to-face engagement. The grant gives businesses the opportunity to develop partnerships with those who share key interests and continue to increase Australia’s ability to engage with Southeast Asia.

Export Market Development Grants: 

Austrade’s Export Market Development Grant program enables Australian businesses to expand their exports into international markets. It does so by encouraging SMEs to promote and market their goods and services internationally. The grant allows for the reimbursement of up to 50% of export promotional expenses, with a maximum grant limit of AUD770,000 per applicant over eight years.

Intellectual Property (IP) Protection in ASEAN

With ASEAN being a large and important market, it is important for Australian exporters and investors to protect their IP rights in ASEAN. It is fortunate that with harmonization of IP laws over the past decades, all ASEAN countries, except for Myanmar, have signed into the relevant international treaties and trademark and patent protection can be sought through the effective international registration systems of Madrid Protocol and Patent Cooperation Treaty. IP rights are after all, a key aspect of economic development of a country and the foundation of success for businesses.

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