Leaders from around south-east Asia will converge on Sydney over the weekend – with large trade delegations in tow – for a “historic and unprecedented” summit with a focus on helping Australian businesses export to the region and adapt to technological changes.
The ASEAN-Australia Special Summit will be the first time Australia has hosted the leaders of the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). It will feature two main events: the Business Summit and a Counter-Terrorism Conference.
As part of the business proceedings, the SME Conference will see “regional specialists, business leaders and successful exporters share knowledge and insights with SMEs who are, or who are considering, exporting to ASEAN”.
The event will provide opportunities for Australian startups and tech companies looking to take advantage of the growing markets in south-east Asia, and the rapid technological changes taking place in the region.
The SME Conference would “unlock new opportunities for trade and investment, creating more jobs here and across the region”, according to the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull.
The conference was a “unique opportunity to tap into expertise and obtain advice about free trade agreements, government programs and trade facilitation services”.
A marketplace will also be on offer, where participating companies can get “tailored and practical advice” about getting started in ASEAN or expanding to the region.
It would feature keynote addresses from Mr Turnbull, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Australia Post chief executive Christine Holgate, and SingTel chief executive Chua Sock Koong.
The Southeast Asia region presents huge opportunities for local Australian businesses, the government said. Between 2012 and 2020, the ASEAN middle-class would more than double to 400 million people, while more than 90 million people are expected to move to urban areas in Southeast Asia by 2030.
The one-day SME Conference would focus on market insights and demographic growth in the region, along with emerging technologies and how businesses in the area are “using digital technology to improve business processes” and the opportunity this presents Australian SMEs.
Other speakers include Data61 chief Adrian Turner and Austrade’s new chief executive Stephanie Fahey.
In an op-ed for the Fairfax papers, Mr Turnbull said the summit would focus on “prosperity and security”.
“This is a historic moment for our place in the world; a rare opportunity in a time of momentous change – unprecedented in its scale and pace. Australia has the strength to shape our future,” Mr Turnbull said.
“Our economy is strong and growing. Our values, multicultural society, and democratic freedoms are sources of global influence. Our strategic cooperation with our neighbours and allies remains solid.”
Singapore, the 2018 ASEAN chair, identified “innovation and resilience” as its two clear themes for its 12-month term.
Australia signed agreements on innovation and cybersecurity with Singapore mid-last year, and it is expected that these topics will be core themes during the SME conference.
There has been a recent push to encourage Australian startups and tech firms to target the growing south-east Asia markets, with the federal government establishing a landing pad for businesses in Singapore two years ago.
A group of Australian investors and founders also recently formed a new industry initiative to promote agricultural technology and entrepreneurship in the Asia Pacific.
The Asia Pacific AgTech Alliance was launched in Singapore earlier this year by Melbourne-based AgTech startup accelerator SproutX.