Overview of Australia's ASEAN and Mekong Program

Australia supports fair and decent work in ASEAN through its TRIANGLE in ASEAN program, delivered in partnership with the International Labour Organization. Photo credit: P.Visitoran, UN Women

How we are helping

Download Australia's ASEAN and Mekong aid program brochure [PDF 394 KB]

2017-18 ASEAN and Mekong Program Bilateral Budget Estimate
$32.6 million

The Australian Government will provide an estimated $32.6 million in total ODA to the ASEAN and Mekong region in 2017-18.

Given our geographic proximity and multi-faceted engagement with countries of the region, Australia has a clear national interest in a prosperous, peaceful and secure Southeast Asia in which countries cooperate to resolve common problems. Australia has long recognised the benefits of supporting regional processes for promoting peace and economic growth. Our long-standing relationship with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was elevated to a strategic partnership in 2014, placing us among the top-tier of ASEAN's external partners. Our partnership and regional engagement is deep and covers cooperation in development, economic integration, security, culture, trade, and education. In 2018 the Prime Minister will welcome ASEAN Leaders to Australia for the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit.

Southeast Asia is one of the fastest growing regions in the world. With a  combined nominal gross domestic product of ASEAN countries at US$2.4 trillion, ASEAN is equivalent to the seventh largest economy in the world. As a combined economy, ASEAN accounts for over 14 per cent of Australia's total trade, with two-way trade valued at almost AUD$100 billion in 2014. Despite this impressive economic growth and poverty reduction, development in Southeast Asia is uneven between and within countries. Millions of people still live on less than USD$1.25 a day, and inequalities abound in income, education, access to formal labour markets, financial services and infrastructure.

Against this background, Australia's ASEAN and Mekong Program helps countries implement a coordinated response to cross-border challenges such as human trafficking and constraints to trade. There is a growing understanding in the region that in some instances, unilateral actions are less effective and joint approaches are necessary. The value of the regional aid program lies in its ability to tackle cross-border challenges that cannot be addressed through bilateral investments alone.

Our program is organised around the following two objectives as outlined in the Southeast Asia Regional Economic Growth and Human Security Aid Investment Plan.

Objective 1: Enabling regional economic cooperation and inclusive growth

Australia uses its regional aid program in Southeast Asia to support the ASEAN regional economic integration agenda and the objectives of the Government's aid policy Australian aid: promoting prosperity, reducing poverty and enhancing stability

Australia directly supports the ASEAN Secretariat by providing high quality economic research and policy advice in priority sectors. We assist ASEAN countries to maximise the benefits of the Agreement Establishing the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Area.

Through innovative sub-regional investments, we help narrow the economic gap between ASEAN countries by supporting trade and transport facilitation and private sector development in the Mekong region, and helping low income men and women access well-regulated and affordable financial services.

Australia's Greater Mekong Water Resources Program helps develop and better manage the region's water resources for greater economic opportunities as well as to protect the 60 million people that rely directly on the Mekong River for their livelihoods.

Collectively, these investments directly address the women's economic empowerment objective and aid-for-trade target of the aid policy.

Investments for enabling regional economic cooperation and inclusive growth

Objective 2: Strengthening regional responses to trafficking and the exploitation of migrant workers

As ASEAN becomes more integrated the effective management of the movement of migrant workers within and from the ASEAN region will become increasingly important. This will ensure the benefits of safe and legal labour migration are experienced by both source and destination countries. Promoting regular migration within the region helps divert money from criminal networks, including those linked to people smuggling and trafficking. We help build the capacity of partner governments to promote safe and legal labour migration pathways.

The exploitation of migrant workers leads to human rights violations, distorts global markets and undermines the rule of law. We work with partner governments to strengthen the region's criminal justice responses to trafficking to reduce the incentives and opportunities for these criminal activities. We ensure the region's criminal justice systems are responsive to male and female victims, as their experiences of trafficking and subsequent needs can differ greatly.

Investments for strengthening regional responses to trafficking and the exploitation of migrant workers

Our results

  • We are helping developing countries implement the ASEAN Australia New Zealand Free Trade Area (AANZFTA) through a total of 65 activities in areas such as rules of origin, investment and services, competition and intellectual property.
  • We are working with the private sector in the Mekong to offer low-cost digital and credit savings products to rural women in Vietnam, a mobile gaming application that teaches financial literacy to women in Myanmar, and a digital savings product targeting women factory workers in Cambodia.
  • Our Greater Mekong Subregion Trade and Transport Facilitation Program has supported 'single stop, single window inspection' between Vietnam and Laos to streamline transit operations, which has halved the clearance times for passenger and goods vehicles.
  • Through the Australia-Asia Program to Combat Trafficking in Persons we have provided support to investigators and prosecutors from Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia to enhance collaboration on trafficking cases.
  • To date, our TRIANGLE in ASEAN program has helped more than 75,000 labour migrants, potential migrants and their family members access advice and/or legal support through 26 Migrant Resource Centres established in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam and Malaysia.

Last Updated: 22 September 2017