23 November 2017


ASEAN and Australian business must drive deeper engagement to capitalise on massive opportunities from the digital revolution 


Sydney, 21 November 2017 – Australia was ASEAN’s first dialogue partner in 1974 however, the economic relations between the two have not grown to its potential, especially with the populations of both nations being so closely connected. Approximately, 896,000 people claimed heritage from ASEAN nations in the last Australian census, while over 1.3 million people from ASEAN visit Australia each year and Australians made three million trips to ASEAN countries in 2016.


ASEAN now represents around 15 percent of Australia’s total trade and is the country’s third largest trading partner, after China and the European Union, but Australian foreign direct investment to ASEAN is heavily skewed towards Singapore with approximately US$3.2 billion invested in the city-state in 2016. This signals that more can be done to drive a deeper business engagement between all ASEAN countries and Australia. Southeast Asia’s massive internet economy which is expected to be worth US$200 billion by 2025 signals changing dynamics in relations and engagement between ASEAN and Australia.


These issues were discussed during a roundtable titled, “Pivoting towards a new approach for Australia-ASEAN business engagement and growth in the digital age” organised by CIMB ASEAN Research Institute (CARI) today, in collaboration with the ASEAN Business Club and the Australia-ASEAN Business Council. The roundtable was held as part of a two-day visit by a delegation of business leaders organised by the ASEAN Business Club, hosted by the Australia-ASEAN Business Council.


The roundtable was jointly chaired by Tan Sri Dr Munir Majid, President ASEAN Business Council and Chairman CIMB ASEAN Research Institute and Eleanor Mak, President Australia-ASEAN Business Council.  It was moderated by Scott Murdoch, Senior Journalist of The Australian (Australia’s national newspaper). The panel of speakers comprised Rod Sims, Chairman of Australian Competition and Consumer Commission; Matt Barrie, CEO of Freelancer.com and CEO of Escrow; Aireen Omar, Chief Executive Officer of AirAsia Berhad; Marcus Luer, Founder and Group Chief Executive of Total Sports Asia; and Nic Lim, Executive Chairman of 8common Limited.


Eleanor Mak, in welcoming the panel, shared her thoughts on the business and investment dynamics of Australia and ASEAN, “The figures show that we need to be smarter and more innovative about the way we engage with each other, and this starts with having access to the right relationships and information to identify and do business successfully.  Australian business tends to look at ASEAN business from the Australian perspective, when we really should be looking at it from the ASEAN perspective and learning to do business in ASEAN from ASEAN business.  And similarly for ASEAN business wanting to do business in Australia – look at it from the Australian perspective and learn from Australian business.”


“Technology is a great leveler and supports this new dynamics of engagement.  Government regulators need to facilitate an environment conducive to business and investment but business needs to drive deeper engagement,” added Eleanor.


From a regulator’s perspective, Rod Sims believes that advancements in technology will lower entry barriers for business and power-up competition policies in ASEAN that enhances business ties between ASEAN-Australia.


“Nine out of the ten ASEAN countries have competition agencies working on national competition frameworks. This a good sign that these economies are working towards a common set of standards as clarity of business helps promote open business. Australia is running a competition implementation programme with all ASEAN competition agencies, by way of providing continuous assistance in lifting the skills level of competition practices. This will help build business ties in the region,” said Rod Sims.


Aireen Omar, Chief Executive Officer of AirAsia Berhad is optimistic about the vast business potential between the two economies. "To enhance trade, travel and tourism between Australia and ASEAN nations, increasing connectivity is essential. Both markets would greatly benefit from an Open Skies agreement. An Open Skies agreement would provide both ASEAN and Australian carriers the opportunity to develop routes as desired, thus greatly benefiting both economies," she said.


Formerly the co-founder of catcha.com, Nic Lim already sees a deepening connection in the digital space between ASEAN and Australia businesses. “Many large internet 1.0 companies in Australia have been very aggressive in ASEAN, such as acquisition of Jobstreet.com by Australian company Seek for US$523.5 million, and iProperty.com by the REA group for A$751 million (US$ 569 million) in 2016. The Australian Stock Exchange has been able to supply capital for Australian investors to make these aggressive moves.”


Australia is hosting leaders from ASEAN at the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit in Sydney in March 2018 to further strengthen economic ties between Australia and ASEAN. The event will be the first time Australia has hosted a summit with ASEAN.


Tan Sri Munir Majid wrapped up the session by concluding that, “Australia wishes to make a statement. That it wishes to give serious attention to the promise and possibilities of ASEAN. ASEAN too must be engaged. Whether or not that relationship is firmly established and deepens depend on commitment and the seizing of possibilities. There are many: in infrastructure, in the digital economy space, and with MSMEs. There clearly is need for greater familiarisation of them.”


CARI and ABC had a day earlier presented the newly launched publication, “Advancing ASEAN in the Digital Age” to the Treasurer of Australia, the Honourable Scott Morrison MP. The publication features articles from a list of 37 policymakers, business and thought leaders. The publication featured three heads of states including the Honourable Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister of Commonwealth of Australia;Yang Amat Berhormat Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib Razak, Prime Minister of Malaysia; and H.E. Hun Sen, Prime Minister of Kingdom of Cambodia.  


In his exclusive dialogue with the ASEAN Business Club and the Australia-ASEAN Business Council, the Treasurer recognised the wide representation of business leaders from different ASEAN countries in the delegation and reaffirmed the importance of ASEAN and Australian economic engagement.


This was the first time the ASEAN Roundtable series has been held outside of ASEAN and the roundtable venue was hosted by freelancer.com. 

Photo Caption: From left to right, Marcus Luer (Founder & Group Chief Executive Total Sports Asia Group), Aireen Omar (CEO and Executive Director, AirAsia), Eleanor Mak (Co-Chair and President, Australia-ASEAN Business Council), Tan Sri Dr Munir Majid (Chair and President, ASEAN Business Club), Rod Sims (Chairman, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission),Nic Lim (Executive Chairman, 8common Limited), Matt Barrie (CEO Freelancer and CEO Escrow), and Scott Murdoch (Senior Journalist, The Australian MC) at the ASEAN Roundtable Series discussion on "Pivoting towards a new approach for Australia-ASEAN businesses engagement and growth in the digital age”