Western Australia is poised to develop closer economic ties with its Southeast Asian neighbours. On 16-20 November, the Perth USAsia Centre was pleased to deliver the 3rd
annual WA-ASEAN Trade and Investment Dialogue
in partnership with the Western Australian Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation (JTSI). The theme of this year’s Dialogue was WA and ASEAN: A Shared Economic Recovery
. It brought together a dynamic range of guests for daily online panel discussions, with a goal to strengthen economic and intuitional understanding between WA and Southeast Asian countries, showcase complementary opportunities for trade and investment growth, and enhance economic ties.
This year, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have hastened the need for WA to build closer economic and business relations with key markets in Southeast Asia. The dialogue focused on developing stronger trade and investment links with large emerging Southeast Asian markets not as a future pursuit, but an immediate WA business and economic imperative.
The virtual dialogue was broadcast live from Perth across a week-long program featuring established and emerging business leaders, policymakers and economists from both WA and Southeast Asia.
Monday 16 November: WA-ASEAN Economic Partnerships and post-COVID recovery
Launching the Dialogue, Professor Gordon Flake was joined by Peter Tinley, WA Minister for Asian Engagement, who emphasised the importance of Southeast Asia for Western Australian jobs given the close geographical proximity and shared time zone. He reiterated the aim of the Dialogue to help maintain the connection between Australia and ASEAN through the pandemic to take full advantage of economic opportunities to emerge from the pandemic together.
Professor Flake and Minister Tinley were also joined by Emma Connors of the Australian Financial Review
and Alisha Sulisto from Bower Group Asia. While many Southeast Asian countries including Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand have handled the pandemic well, Indonesia is the “odd one out” in its COVID response. The panellists noted that Indonesia’s lack of mitigation efforts will hurt its attractiveness to investment and the speed of its economic rebound.
While the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (IA-CEPA) will aid Indonesia’s post-COVID recovery, countries that have handled the pandemic well such as Vietnam are more attractive destinations for supply chains and stand to rebound faster from the pandemic.
Tuesday 17 November: Australia’s abundance and ASEAN’s demands (Agribusiness)
On day two of the Dialogue, Professor Flake and Minister Tinley were joined by Richard Lovell of CP Foods, Franky Welirang of Bogasari Group, and Alice Woodhead of the Australia-ASEAN Council. The panel discussion focused on agribusiness and how gaps in ASEAN’s resource supply can potentially be met by Australian products. It was noted that ASEAN is a highly attractive market for exports, and Western Australia offers produce that is of both high quality and safety to meet demand in ASEAN. Key to fulfilling this, however, is understanding consumer demand the changing way business is being conducted. It is critical that businesses adapt to meet demand and the changing nature of market logistics, particularly in the COVID-era where air freight has been restricted and processing locations closed due to lockdown measures.
It was suggested that in going forward, WA businesses can avoid logistical challenges introduced by COVID or other factors by developing shelf-stable, higher value-added products that can withstand time-sensitive logistical issues.
Wednesday 18 November: 21st Century Energy and Resource Needs
Wednesday commenced with a video message from Minister Tinley highlighting Western Australia’s clean energy industry. He noted that WA has significant potential the in global battery supply chain, with reserves of minerals for lithium battery production and providing over half the world’s lithium. The state also has a focus on expanding capacity for renewable hydrogen energy and renewable technology.
Guests on this panel were Hendro Fujiono of Fujishepherd & Associates, Sophie Lu of Bloomberg NEF and Dr Jeffrey Wilson from the Perth USAsia Centre, and Professor Flake moderated the discussion.
The panel discussed a global energy transition currently taking place, where a switch is being made to renewable energy technologies and the storage of energy in batteries. Under this global energy transition, WA and ASEAN are able to get past being producers competing for the same markets and move towards working within infrastructure and value chains to introduce complementarity rather than competition. An example of this would be opportunities in battery value chains cross-border production to combine WA lithium with Indonesian nickel to produce lithium nickel batteries.
Thursday 19 November: Unlocking Investment Opportunities
Minister Tinley again opened discussion with a video message, explaining the importance of trade and investment for Western Australia. He noted that 500,000 WA jobs depend on trade and investment relationships, so it is critical that the state prepare now to access ASEAN markets in the post-COVID period.
In a discussion moderated by Professor Flake, Daniel Moss of Bloomberg, Anita Prakash from the Economic Research Institute of ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA), and Sherman Mak of Waleta Group discussed the success and challenges of current trade agreements, as well as the opportunities that lie ahead. While COVID has posed a significant risk to connectivity and investment, we should not lose sight of long-term investment opportunities. The recent signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (RCEP) offers significant and unprecedented opportunities for trade and investment across the region, particularly as economies recover post-COVID.
Friday 20 November: Engaging and Reconnecting with ASEAN post-COVID
On the final day of the dialogue, Professor Flake was joined for a discussion with Dang Huong of Hopebox, Robbie Gaspar from the AIBC-WA, Jason Craig of CBH Group and Faudi Pitsuwan of Beanspire Coffee.
Discussion commenced with another video message from Minister Tinley, who recognised that Western Australia’s future is connected to ASEAN, emphasising that the state understands the value in partnerships across Southeast Asia to grow both economies.
The panel discussion focused on ways to engage and reconnect after the pandemic to expedite economic recovery. It was noted that sports diplomacy is effective means to build people-to-people links. It was also discussed that given the effective COVID responses of Australia and many ASEAN countries, introducing travel bubbles, special visas and university scholarships are effective ways to commence the process of reconnecting post-pandemic.
Throughout the course of the week, we also released a series of videos to showcase West Australian businesses with compelling stories. Watch Moora Citrus
, Vasse Felix
, Marine Produce Australia
and Betty Tran Consultants
discuss the success of their businesses in ASEAN markets and how they have unlocked the rich opportunities Southeast Asia has to offer.