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Australia looks to Southeast Asia for business boost

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will unveil new policies to help boost Australia's business engagement in Southeast Asia during a busy day of high-level talks.


Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (right) greets Secretary-General of ASEAN Dr. Kao Kim Hourn ahead of a Bilateral meeting during the 2024 ASEAN-Australia Special Summit at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre in Melbourne, Tuesday, March 5, 2024. Image AAP

Improved visa access for Southeast Asia, better finance opportunities to boost investment and on-the-ground support for businesses in Indonesia and Vietnam have been flagged to strengthen Australia's standing in the region.


Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will use an address to 100 Australian and Southeast Asian chief executives on Tuesday to make five new policy announcements stemming from recommendations in an economic strategy for the region. 


Mr Albanese began a busy day of high-level talks by meeting with ASEAN secretary general Kao Kim Hourn ahead of talks with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and other leaders.

Anthony Albanese with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong ahead of bilateral talks.


The business package set to be announced later on Tuesday includes $2 billion in loans, guarantees, equity and insurance managed by Export Finance Australia to help support the clean energy transition and $140 million over four years to extend an infrastructure partnership program. 


More support will be provided to businesses in Jakarta and Ho Chi Minh City to increase technology services exports to Southeast Asian markets.


Ten senior Australian business leaders dubbed "champions" will facilitate greater links between Australia and the region, and business validity visas will be extended from three years to five.


A 10-year frequent traveller visa scheme will also be extended to eligible ASEAN nations and East Timor. 


Australia's future lays in Southeast Asia more than in any other region, Mr Albanese is expected to say in his address. 


Two-way trade between ASEAN nations and Australia passed $178 billion in 2022, greater than that of the US or Japan.


"There is room for much stronger economic partnerships between us," he will tell the forum.


"Australia and Southeast Asia must together face this moment with a sense of optimism and urgency because while there is so much untapped potential, there is not unlimited time.


"We want to ensure businesses in Southeast Asia can access the markets that are available in Australia."


Treasurer Jim Chalmers, Trade Minister Don Farrell, Industry Minister Ed Husic and Agriculture Minister Murray Watt will all join the prime minister at the gathering alongside other assistant ministers.


Dr Chalmers said it was crucial for investment in Southeast Asia to be expanded.


"ASEAN is where the action is, and we want a bigger slice of the action for our workers and for our businesses, and what this new investment facility is all about is making sure that we can turbocharge that two-way investment," he said.


Treasurer Jim Chalmers says the ASEAN group is "where the action is".


"We recognise that when the region is more secure and prosperous, our people here in Australia are more secure and prosperous as well."


The treasurer said there would be measures in place to ensure the $2 billion being made available would suit investment purposes alongside the national interest.


Opposition foreign spokesman Simon Birmingham welcomed the announcement of the investment facility.


"It makes enormous sense and (there are) great opportunities for Australia to grow and strengthen two-way investment ties with Southeast Asia," he told Sky News.


The ASEAN-Australia Special Summit opened in Melbourne on Monday and brought together leaders from the region. 


Australia announced an additional $222.5 million for water security, combating transnational crime and responding to climate change through the Mekong-Australia Partnership over five years.


An extra $40 million will be put towards expanding Australia's Southeast Asian maritime partnerships as well a $10 million for other climate change programs.


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