Virginia, US
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| Justin Gibbs

2018 ASEAN-Australia Business Summit: AN Economic Bloc to Watch

The leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, met in Australia for the first time in March for the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit. I was fortunate to be able to attend the Business Summit, which presented a unique opportunity for companies to tap into expertise from government, regional specialists and business leaders, in the overall context of helping businesses take advantage of the vast opportunities within ASEAN. 

The key note address, delivered jointly by Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull and Singaporean PM Lee Hsien Loong, rejected protectionism to preference free trade – despite the global mood shifting in the opposite direction – and reinforced their commitment to work together to strengthen trade liberalism. Key themes of the Summit included strengthening regional economic integration, digital disruption, changing workforce, and making it easier for companies to engage in cross-border trade.

The ASEAN community is seeking to entrench itself as a global power bloc with increased freedom of movement - just as the US and Europe are tightening visa policies. Discussion around the ASEAN single visa, potentially mirroring the European Schengen visa arrangements, holds a significant level of interest.

The Summit showcased the immense opportunities in the ASEAN region. It is a region that is experiencing unprecedented economic growth, innovation and progress. From the financial powerhouse of Singapore, to the rapidly emerging markets such as Indonesia and Vietnam – ASEAN is a diverse and exciting economy that will be central to Australia’s continued growth.

Already the fifth largest economy and the second largest destination for direct foreign investment, ASEAN’s combined real GDP has more than doubled in the last 10 years, accompanied by rapid growth in incomes, rising consumer spending, urbanisation and internet use. Consumer spending is forecast to reach US$2.3 trillion by 2020, and with 60% of its population under 35 years of age, further acceleration is predicted, including that the ASEAN middle-class will more than double to 400 million people by 2030.

In this context, Australian businesses’ expansion to ASEAN countries needs to be underpinned by a comprehensive travel and visa policy. The dangers of breaching the complex rules and regulations around business travel have been well-publicised.  This area is too often an afterthought in terms of planning for business expansion, having the potential to undermine the success of business strategies. Fragomen has experts around the region, and can provide comprehensive, practical and strategic advice upfront to enable businesses to make the best decisions about visas and work permits, ensure compliance and support their international footprint and growth.  In addition, Fragomen’s expanding APAC Government Relations practice can provide valuable guidance and direction to strategically navigate the ASEAN region.

For queries on Fragomen Government relations and efforts in APAC, please contact Justin at Jgibbs@fragomen.com or  +61 8 9436 0310.