Many of the countries within the ASEAN region are now starting to work on their post-COVID economic recovery. As at the time of writing, Vietnam and Thailand hadn’t reported double digits since the end of September, Cambodia has barely reported a new case since October 10, and Singapore reported just 7 new cases on October 18, with only 111 active cases. Coincidentally, one of the ASEAN region’s closest neighbors, the state of Western Australia (WA), reported seven new cases on October 18. As the COVID curve flattens in the region, stabilizing the economy becomes a priority, with significant opportunities emerging for Western Australia and the ASEAN region to connect across various industries.
Over the last thirty years, there is no doubt that Northeast Asia has represented the economic epicenter of the region, with countries such as China, Japan and Korea driving growth. In recent years, ASEAN has begun its own economic rise, and it is in nearby Western Australia’s best interests to strengthen trade and investment connections with its member countries.
The 2020 WA-ASEAN Trade and Investment Dialogue aims to do just that. The Dialogue is designed to strengthen economic and institutional understanding between WA and Southeast Asian countries, by showcasing complementary opportunities for trade and investment growth and discussing issues of shared economic interest. This year, the Dialogue will be held virtually, hosted by the WA Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation and the Perth USAsia Centre, a non-partisan international relations think tank based at The University of Western Australia.
The Dialogue will be feature online events hosted daily during the week of November 16, covering a range of topics from economic partnerships, agribusiness, 21st-century energy and resources demands, to unlocking investment opportunities, and rebuilding WA-ASEAN connections post-COVID.
Significant progress has already been made to strengthen connections, even during the onset of COVID. The Indonesian-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (IA-CEPA) entered into force in July, and a Memorandum of Understanding with Vietnam’s Ba Ria-Vung Tau province was announced by WA’s State Government in mid-September 2020.
Western Australia is a major exporter of cereal grains (wheat, canola and barley), beef cattle, sheep and wool. Whilst some progress has been made within this industry between WA and the ASEAN region, accounting for 7 percent of the region’s agricultural imports, WA is only beginning to tap into ASEAN markets, which can serve to enhance the relationship between WA and the ASEAN region.
The IA-CEPA has recognized this opportunity, fixing Australia as Indonesia’s preferred food security partner. Similarly, the WA state government’s MOU with Ba Ria-Vung Tau was developed following a history of companies with WA connections establishing themselves within that province, some even shortly after Vietnam began opening up to foreign investment.
WA has fundamentally been a resource-driven state. Its rich endowments of minerals and energy have long been the foundation for both its economic prosperity, and for its trade and investment links with Indo-Pacific partners. It is a globally important producer of iron ore, liquefied natural gas (LNG), gold and several base metals. It also hosts emerging lithium, rare earth and cobalt sectors. These minerals are used extensively in clean energy industries, where demand is growing rapidly. As such, there is significant scope for WA and ASEAN to grow economic partnerships based on the resource trade: pairing the state’s world-class assets with burgeoning demand for primary products in developing Southeast Asia.
In addition to the pioneers of the WA-ASEAN relationship – industries like agriculture and resources – there are many emerging investment opportunities which Western Australia and ASEAN could tap into, including services and technology. ASEAN is not only urbanizing, which comes with significant infrastructure demands, but its digital technology capabilities are evolving. Recognizing the potential of these new markets, WA has established a number of diaspora-affiliated Asia business councils, a growing number of “Asia capability” private sector resources, and its network of trade offices across the region.
As both Western Australia and ASEAN look to recover from COVID-19, the relationship between the two is more important than ever. This necessitates action now. ASEAN is not a future opportunity, it is a present opportunity. The WA-ASEAN Dialogue will showcase forward-thinking WA businesses who already see partnerships with their ASEAN neighbors as a key driver of growth.
In the light of the present state of regional affairs, new opportunities between WA and ASEAN need to be identified as ASEAN begins to take its place as a key contributor to the evolution of the Indo-Pacific. From agriculture and food security, mining and energy to technology – there are many existing and emerging industries where the WA-ASEAN connection can build capacity and promote prosperity across both economies.
The WA-ASEAN Trade and Investment Dialogue will be held online from November 16-20, 2020. Register at https://perthusasia.edu.au/2020-wa-asean.