ASEAN-Australia Ministerial Meeting - Opening remarks
Good afternoon andthank you to my co-chair, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for your warm comments.
I congratulate youagain on your appointment as State Counsellor and Foreign Minister and wewarmly welcome the smooth political transition that has taken place in yourcountry. As I said to you earlier, I am very pleased that Australiaplayed a small part in supporting the recent elections, to further strengthenMyanmar's Union Election Commission's technical capacity and indeed we fieldedten observer teams, including members of the Australian Parliament. Inote that the Commission also participated in a visitor program for our ownelection this month, so Myanmar and Australia are very much partners indemocracy.
It was in Nay PyiTaw in November 2014 that Australia was elevated to an ASEAN Strategic Partner,and we appreciate Myanmar's support as our ASEAN country coordinator and welook forward to continuing to work closely with you, Daw Suu, and yourofficials.
I am delighted tobe back in Vientiane. I last visited two years ago. I thankour Lao hosts for the fine arrangements for our meeting. Let me expressAustralia's strong support for Lao PDR as ASEAN Chair in this significant year.
2015 was a landmarkyear for ASEAN and Australia welcomes the establishment of the ASEANCommunity. This integration milestone further highlights thetransformation of a once-volatile region into one increasingly known for itsprosperity and stability.
ASEAN willcelebrate another very significant milestone next year with its 50thanniversary. It will be an opportunity to reflect on the crucial roleASEAN has played in preserving regional stability and promoting prosperity overthe past half a century.
Ours is apartnership built on shared interests and enduring ties. As ASEAN'slongest-standing Dialogue Partner, with our relationship now in its 42ndyear, Australia is deeply invested in your success.
We are living in anincreasingly complex and dynamic region, as evidenced by developments in theSouth China Sea. ASEAN centrality and unity is vital for peace, securityand stability in our neighbourhood. Indeed ASEAN was established in 1967 topreserve peace and stability in the region and through the rule of law andrespect for justice.
We note the recentdecision of the Tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague onthe South China Sea, which gives clarity to the international law regardingmaritime rights in these waters. Given this clarity, Australia encourages thePhilippines and China to abide by the ruling, which is final and binding, andto re-engage to resolve their differences. How the outcome of the arbitrationis handled is an important test for how ASEAN can help manage disputespeacefully.
Our Strategic Partnershipprovides a platform for jointly addressing the challenges facing theregion. We have frank and constructive dialogues on the pressing issuesin our neighbourhood, including maritime security, counter-terrorism, combatingtransnational crime, and people-smuggling and human trafficking. It isvital that these be continued and with effective cooperation.
We are committed toworking with you to strengthen regional cooperation, particularly through theEast Asia Summit, but also through the ASEAN Regional Forum and the ASEANDefence Ministers' Meeting-Plus.
As a group, ASEANis Australia's second largest trading partner – and we are your eighth largestexternal trading partner. Bilateral trade was worth almost $100 billionin 2015. Our investment links continue to grow strongly – two wayinvestment grew twelve per cent from 2014 to 2015 to over $227 billion.
This is an economicpartnership of mutual benefit. TheProtocol to Amend the ASEAN-Australia-NewZealand Free Trade Agreement has entered intoforce for eleven of the twelveparties, making it easier for businesses to make the most of what is a landmark,comprehensive Free Trade Agreement delivering real commercialbenefits.
The success of thistrade agreement has fed our mutual ambition for the Regional ComprehensiveEconomic Partnership (RCEP). Australia is aiming for an ambitious andcredible RCEP outcome. That's what our businesspeople and consumers wantand expect, and it is incumbent on our governments to deliver it.
To reinforce this,and to support ASEAN's own economic integration efforts, we continue to providedirect and tangible support to ASEAN's regional economic integrationagenda. I believe our programs deliver practical results. I am verypleased that we have been able to support the development of your priorityplans for connectivity and consumer protection, while our economic partnershiphas also assisted a number of ASEAN Member States to put national competitionlaws and policies in place by 2015, meeting a commitment under the ASEANEconomic Community.
Beyond our supportthrough the ASEAN Secretariat, we deliver a number of economic engagementinitiatives focused on development of the region's private sector.
In this vein, theAustralian-supported $13.2 million Mekong Business Initiative has just launchedthe Mekong Angel Investor Network, which will connect ASEAN and international'angel investors' to start-ups and entrepreneurs in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar andVietnam, providing capital in return for convertible debt or ownership equity.
We are also doingmore to support ASEAN-Australia socio-cultural cooperation – including throughour undeniably strong people-to-people links.
I am delighted thatAustralia's New Colombo Plan was expanded to all ASEAN countries last year. Bythe end of this year, 10,000 young Australians would have studied, lived andworked in the Indo-Pacific region, and half of those students will be in ASEANcountries.
Australia welcomed123,000 students from ASEAN countries last year, each of whom will buildlife-long connections to Australia.
Our tourism linksare flourishing –nearly 1.2 million visitors from ASEAN countries to Australialast year and over 2.8 million Australians travelled to the ASEAN region in2015.
Last September, Ilaunched the Australia-ASEAN Council - representing a new facet of Australia'sengagement with the region. The Council is supporting a diverse range andI think exciting activities - from a partnership to build regional capacity indisaster resilience education, to an exchange program for femalefootball coaches through a partnership with the ASEANand Australian Football Federations.
Australia is proudto be ASEAN's Strategic Partner; a substantial economic partner; a strongadvocate of a peaceful, rules-based neighbourhood; and a highly engagedparticipant in ASEAN-led regional architecture. We have a profoundinterest in ASEAN's continuing success and we are committed to expanding ourrelationship into new areas of cooperation for our mutual benefit.
Our ties will bestrengthened further when the first Leaders' Summit under our StrategicPartnership is held here in Vientiane in September.
This is a significantstep. Prime Minister Turnbull is looking forward to a rich andconstructive discussion with your leaders. The Summit is a chance toreflect on the successes of our partnership and to ensure we are positionedwell for the future.
I look forward to ourdiscussions here today.