ASEAN-Australia Special Summit, keynote address to the CEO Forum, Melbourne

  • Speech, check against delivery

Welcome to the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit CEO Forum.

I am honoured to welcome business leaders from across Southeast Asia and Australia to this event, in the thriving commercial hub of Melbourne.

I'd like to start by acknowledging the ongoing connection the traditional owners have with the land on which we are meeting here today, and pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging.

I'd also like to acknowledge Secretary‑General of ASEAN, His Excellency Dr Kao Kim Hourn, Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Tim Watts, and Special Envoy for Southeast Asia Nicholas Moore.

Australia has deep historical trading links with Southeast Asia.

Our first traders were indigenous peoples of Northern Australia who shared their land and sea with visiting Makassan merchants - voyagers from what is now modern-day Indonesia.

And in the last 50 years, since Australia became a dialogue partner to ASEAN, we've seen our trade and economic links grow steadily across a range of sectors.

From our cattle trade in the north, to our wheat exports in the west, and our thriving international education, tourism and technology sectors – Australia has been a trusted and reliable trading partner to our neighbors in Southeast Asia.

But despite our proximity, the economic bonds we share, and the deep people-to-people links we have built – we are still yet to grasp the full potential of our trade and investment relationship.

Australia's Southeast Asia Economic Strategy to 2040, developed by our Special Envoy for Southeast Asia, Nicholas Moore – who you will hear from soon – made the case for how Australia can increase two-way trade and investment with Southeast Asia.

Today's gathering of leading CEOs from Australia and Southeast Asia presents a unique opportunity to make history.

We can use this forum to turbo-charge commercial relationships, and to forge new business partnerships that will kick our trade and investment relationship into the next gear.

Australia's economic future lies with Southeast Asia.

As a bloc, ASEAN is on track to be the world's fourth biggest economy by 2040, and home to a consumer market 10 times bigger than Australia's.

Our two-way trade hit a record $178 billion in 2022.

This is greater than our two-way trade with either Japan, the US or the European Union.

If our two-way trade continues to grow at the current rate of 4.6 per cent each year, our total trade will reach an impressive $400 billion by 2040.

But if we can strengthen our economic relationship and achieve growth of 6.3 per cent year on year, our trade could triple - to over $530 billion by 2040.

Our government believes this growth is well within reach.

Because just like the business leaders in this room, we have high ambitions for our economic relationship with Southeast Asia.

We see ASEAN not only as an enormous growth opportunity for Australian business, but also as a key diversification market for our exporters.

Despite its size, growth and proximity, Southeast Asia only receives around 13 per cent of our total exports.

That is why our government has invested over $19 million in a new program to support Australian businesses boost trade in Southeast Asia – through the Australia Southeast Asia Business Exchange.

This business exchange is all about getting boots on the ground.

Sending our world-class agriculture, mining, education, infrastructure, technology and tourism businesses to the region, to build lasting connections with customers, suppliers, investors and partners, and to learn firsthand how to do business in Southeast Asia.

I am excited that the first business exchange mission will head to Singapore and Malaysia next month, focusing on the abundant trading opportunities in the clean energy transition.

Harnessing the full potential of our economic relationship is about more than boosting our trade.

It's also about deepening Australian investments in Southeast Asia, and accelerating investment from our ASEAN partners right here in Australia.

By 2040, the Southeast Asian region will require an estimated 3 trillion dollars in infrastructure investment, which provides incredible opportunities for Australian investors.

We are already helping facilitate this investment, by launching Deal Teams in the region.

Following the Prime Minister's announcement last year, I'm pleased to tell you that those teams will be located in hubs in Singapore, Jakarta, and Ho Chi Minh City, with additional representatives spread across Southeast Asia.

These hubs will work with Australian investors, and local project proponents across a range of sectors including infrastructure, clean energy, telecommunications, and education, facilitating and promoting greater Australian investment in Southeast Asia.

Because we know that Australia's future prosperity relies on greater investment in our region.

More Australian investment means more Australian participation in contracts, exports and value for Australian companies in the game-changing projects in Southeast Asia.

And it means more Australian expertise working to build the future cities, infrastructure and grow high-quality services in Southeast Asia.

It's in all of our interests.

Our government's recent efforts to boost trade and investment in Southeast Asia are on top of our already impressive network of trade agreements in the region.

We have trade agreements with Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia which are paying major dividends for Australian and Southeast Asian businesses.

One of my first actions as Trade Minister was to join the United States and many Southeast Asian economies as founding members of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework.

Last year we concluded new regional agreements that will promote clean energy investment, lift and align trading standards, and protect supply chains so that trade flows more freely in the Indo-Pacific region, including in Southeast Asia.

We've signed the world's first Green Economy Agreement with Singapore.

And last year, Australia upgraded our trade agreement with our Southeast Asian and New Zealand friends, which is making commerce cheaper, faster and easier across our region.

Australians and the citizens of ASEAN share many deep, longstanding people-to-people connections.

And it is this trust and personal connection that is the key to international business success.

That is why we've announced a Placements and Internships Pilot Program for Young Professionals, to build the next generation of links between Australian and Southeast Asian people and business.

We are aiming for around 100 Australian and Southeast Asian professionals to participate in exchanges, starting later this year.

And we are pleased that the Business Council of Australia has agreed to partner with us to make that happen.

I have seen firsthand the benefits of building personal connection with Southeast Asia.

After I finished university, I travelled extensively in the region.

And of course, I married my beautiful wife in Manila some 40 years ago.

The transformation of Southeast Asia into an association of self-determined, growing middle and high-income countries is underway.

Australia wants to be a partner in this ambitious growth story.

Because we share this region.

Our security and economic prosperity are linked.

Let's leverage a golden age of trade and investment together in the next 50 years of our partnership.

Thank you.

Media enquiries

  • Minister's office: 02 6277 7420
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555