Overview of Australia's ASEAN and Mekong Program

2018-19 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 Program in 2018-19.

Australia has a clear national interest in a prosperous, peaceful and secure Southeast Asia in which countries cooperate to resolve common problems. Our partnership with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has helped support regional security and prosperity for nearly 45 years. ASEAN's combined population of over 630 million people makes it the world's third largest behind China and India, and our two-way trade with the region now exceeds $100 billion. Learn more about Australia's engagement with ASEAN in Why ASEAN matters: our mutual cooperation.

Australia's ASEAN and Mekong Program helps ASEAN implement a coordinated response to regional challenges such as constraints to trade, transboundary water management and human trafficking. 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 two objectives as outlined in the Southeast Asia Regional Economic Growth and Human Security Aid Investment Plan.

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.

Objective 1: Enabling regional economic cooperation and inclusive growth

Despite ASEAN's impressive economic growth rate and success in poverty reduction, development in Southeast Asia is uneven between and within countries. Millions 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.

Australia uses its regional aid program in Southeast Asia to support the ASEAN regional economic integration agenda and the objectives of the Australian 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.

The ASEAN-Australia Digital Trade Standards joint initiative announced at the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit in 2018 aims to build regional regulatory consistency and complements existing ASEAN priorities on the digital economy.

Through innovative sub-regional investments, we help narrow the economic gap between ASEAN countries. We do this by supporting inclusive economic development in the private sector, better regional transport connectivity and increased access to well-regulated and affordable financial services for low income men and women.

Australia's Greater Mekong Water Resources Program helps better manage the region's water resources for greater and more sustainable economic opportunities, as well as to protect the 60 million people who 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. We work with ASEAN governments to strengthen the region's criminal justice responses to human trafficking to reduce the incentives and opportunities. 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.

At the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit in March 2018, the Foreign Minister announced a ten-year $80 million commitment to continue our long-running collaboration with ASEAN to combat human trafficking in our region. The ASEAN – Australia Counter Trafficking commitment will build on our 15-year history of supporting improved criminal justice sector responses to these crimes in ASEAN. Learn more in Why ASEAN matters: our shared security.

We also support safe and fair labour migration through our TRIANGLE in ASEAN program. This means delivering better jobs where workers are protected and their skills recognised.

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

Our results

Australia's ASEAN and Mekong Program has:

  • helped more than 100,000 labour migrants, potential migrants and their family members access legal and financial advice through the TRIANGLE in ASEAN program.
  • supported the implementation of the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025, providing a framework to improve people-to-people, institutional and infrastructure links across ASEAN.
  • supported the OECD to complete an Investment Policy Review (IPR) in Laos, which led to reforms to investment capital requirements and new business registration processes.
  • supported the finalisation of a subregional transport agreement to make key border crossings between mainland Southeast Asia and southern China faster, cheaper and easier.
  • tested alternative financing models for start-ups and entrepreneurs, such as angel investing, and supported innovative solutions in the areas of agritech, tourism and financial technology.
  • supported more than 10,000 justice officials to improve the criminal justice response to trafficking in persons in ASEAN
  • provided technical support to help Laos finalise a new water law.
  • supported a major Social and Environmental Assessment of the hydropower sector in Myanmar.
  • supported the Mekong River Commission's technical review of, and public consultation on, the design of the third mainstream dam planned by Laos on the Mekong River at Pak Beng.

For further information on ASEAN-Australia Special Summit Initiatives see the following factsheets.

Last Updated: 24 October 2018