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Development assistance: ASEAN and Southeast Asia regional programs

Overview of Australia's ASEAN and Southeast Asia regional programs

2020-21 total Australian ODA [budget estimate]
$38.4 million
2019-20 total Australian ODA [budget estimate]
$33.7 million

Partnerships for Recovery in ASEAN and Southeast Asia regional  

Australia's development efforts are set out in Partnerships for Recovery: Australia's COVID-19 Development Response.

The ASEAN and Southeast Asia regional COVID-19 Development Response Plan (CRP) sets out how we will work to address the regional challenges posed by COVID-19, and strengthen the regional architecture required to respond effectively, recognising our shared interests in building a stable, prosperous and resilient Indo-Pacific. It complements work under Australia's Southeast Asia bilateral COVID-19 Development Response Plans.

How we are helping

COVID-19 presents the region with complex, transboundary challenges. Australia's own recovery from COVID-19 is closely linked to the recovery of ASEAN and other regional partners.

Development cooperation through Australia's ASEAN and Southeast Asia regional programs helps ASEAN and our Southeast Asian partners implement a coordinated response to shared regional challenges such as constraints to trade, transboundary water management, human trafficking and other forms of transnational crime, infrastructure and support for governance.

How we contribute

The pandemic is exposing pre-existing challenges facing Southeast Asia and is reversing some of the region's hard-won development gains

Australia has quickly pivoted our development programs in Southeast Asia to focus on health security, stability and economic recovery in response to COVID-19.

Across Southeast Asia, we will aim to address the critical gaps in health security caused by the pandemic, including by drawing on work carried out by Australia's Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security, while also maintaining support to essential health services

Australia is committed to supporting stability and social cohesion in Southeast Asia in the face of unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19. Programs will strengthen essential services, bolster social protection mechanisms, promote good governance, uphold rules and norms, and combat transnational crimes.

Drawing on long-standing economic programs, Australia is well placed to assist Southeast Asia's economic recovery from the impact of COVID-19. We will provide support for trade and investment, regulatory reform and economic governance, quality infrastructure development and agriculture productivity, human capital development, effective resource management, and women's economic empowerment. Gender equality and women's empowerment is not merely a development outcome but also a driver of economic growth.

Through our work outlined in the CRP, we are leveraging our comparative advantage and ensuring our development cooperation complements broader efforts. We are maintaining flexibility to respond to changing circumstances and needs, and are actively pursuing opportunities to partner with like-minded donors and multilateral institutions (including ASEAN) to amplify our efforts.


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 50 years.

ASEAN's recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic will be critical for Australia's economic interests. Our two-way trade with ASEAN is worth $124 billion annually, three of our top ten trading partners - Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand - are ASEAN member states. Two-way investment stocks were valued at $259 billion in 2019.

Learn more about Australia's engagement with ASEAN in Why ASEAN matters: our mutual cooperation.

Australia uses its regional development cooperation program in Southeast Asia to support the ASEAN regional economic integration agenda and the objectives of the Australian Government's development policy.

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.

Investments for enabling regional economic cooperation and inclusive growth

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.

The ASEAN – Australia Counter Trafficking program 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 Southeast Asia regional Program has:

  • We gave 160,000 labour migrants, potential migrants and their family members access to legal and financial advice and trained 31,000 labour officials.
  • We trained 13,000 justice officials to improve the criminal justice response to trafficking in persons in ASEAN.
  • 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.
  • launched a priority plan for ASEAN's regional infrastructure projects to attract investment and enhance connectivity in the region.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • commenced 17 technical assistance projects on water management in the Mekong sub-region, including for Laos' national dam safety review, to support irrigation modernisation in Vietnam, and to strengthen water information systems in Thailand.
  • 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.

Fact sheets

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