Aust businesses look to ASEAN for growth

Australia's business chiefs have been coming up with ways to expand trade with ASEAN member countries.

Australia's business chiefs have rammed home the message to their Southeast Asian counterparts that they've got so much more than minerals to export.

A who's who of Australian business chiefs including banking bosses and the heads of Coca Cola Amatil, Crown and Telstra held talks at the weekend with corporate leaders from some of the biggest companies operating in the 10-member ASEAN bloc during a special summit in Sydney.

Their discussions included ways to increase the $100-billion-a-year trade between Australia and ASEAN members by coming up with new opportunities in education, food standards, and digital automation in manufacturing.

Blackmores chief executive Richard Henfrey, whose vitamin giant operates in seven of the 10 ASEAN member countries, says with the expanding middle classes across Southeast Asia, education, hospitality and tourism take on much greater importance in terms of trade with Australia.

"This week has shown Australia in that very strong light and shown what the relationship can be," he told AAP on Sunday.

"Sometimes it's an important message to get across both to Australian businesses and to overseas businesses that Australian exports are about more than minerals and agricultural products."

During the talks, the business leaders discussed ways to co-operate on setting standards that could ensure they all benefited from the impact digital technology is having on manufacturing.

Ways to introduce STEM subjects into vocational education programs so people studying a trade learn about the latest technology were also bandied around.

"If you are looking for areas where ASEAN and Australia have a real interest in co-operating I think something around digital and high-tech engineering skills is a really good one because we all risk falling behind the US and China in this, I think, and together there is probably more we can do to stay ahead," Mr Henfrey said.

Southern Cross University vice-chancellor Prof Adam Shoemaker said from the discussions he had he saw plenty of potential opportunities for his institution to work with ASEAN businesses on food standards in response to the growing demand for "safe" and trustworthy brands.

The university has an organics research centre based in northern NSW, an area Prof Shoemaker describes as Australia's "epicentre for organic farming".

"We think we can play a role as a university in the industry and trade relationship question," he said.

"It's not just a scientific or genetic or plant science question, it's a question about ethics and governance and legal labelling.

"Almost every faculty could play a role."

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the summit had "put the accelerator on Australia's economic engagement with ASEAN".

"I am convinced that the opportunities for Australia in our region are vast if we continue to engage proactively with the economies of the Indo Pacific," he said.

Published 19 March 2018 at 7:04am
Source: AAP