Australia has agreed to work with Cambodia on ASEAN priorities, while Prime Minister Anthony Albanese also unveiled a $2 billion business engagement package.

Albanese met for bilateral talks with his Cambodian counterpart Hun Manet on the sidelines of the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit in Melbourne, Australia, on March 5.

“Australia will continue to work with Cambodia on ASEAN priorities. We both benefit from an open, stable and prosperous region. A productive meeting with Prime Minister Hun Manet today,” Albanese tweeted after the meeting.

According to Manet’s social media, during the meeting, Albanese expressed his admiration for the “marvellous resilience” of Cambodia, especially in view of its recovery from the Khmer Rouge genocidal regime.

Both leaders expressed their appreciation for the more than 70 years of diplomatic ties between the two nations, noting how it has benefited their peoples, and committing to enhance their relations.

“On behalf of the Cambodian people, I thank the people and government of Australia for their support for the Kingdom, especially during the UNTAC period of the 1990s,” Manet said in reference to the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia. 

“Our rapid socio-economic development could not have been achieved without Australian support in key sectors such as agriculture, health, mine clearance, security and defence, among others,” he added.

He also informed Albanese of his commitment to strengthening trade, economic, education, labour, and defence links. 

Manet also extended an invitation for his Australian counterpart to visit Cambodia, an invitation which Albanese accepted.

The $2 billion initiatives will be initiated through the Southeast Asia Investment Financing Facility (SEAIFF), managed by Export Finance Australia. The package was unveiled by Albanese while addressing 100 Australian and Southeast Asian CEOs at the summit.

“These initiatives represent an investment in our future and ensure we will continue to work with Southeast Asia as it continues to grow in economic size and reach,” said Albanese.

“When our region prospers, Australia prospers. Our work internationally is delivering for Australians – for jobs, for our economy and for our people,” he added.

A statement from the Australian Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet said the initiative will provide loans, guarantees, equity and insurance for projects that would “boost Australian trade and investment in Southeast Asia, particularly in support of the region’s clean energy transition and infrastructure development”.

It added that the initiative will fulfil the recommendations made last year in the “Invested: Australia’s Southeast Asia Economic Strategy to 2040” report, aimed at deepening Australia’s economic engagement with the region and ensuring shared prosperity.

Currently, a package of $140 million from Australia is being used to support the “Partnerships for Infrastructure Programme”, a four-year project that kicked off in 2021.

The programme assists partners to accelerate transport connectivity, the clean energy transition and telecommunications reforms.

According to the statement, Australia’s trade with ASEAN reached $178 billion in 2022, or 15% of Australia’s trade, larger than its trade with Japan or the US. Two-way investment was worth $307 billion in the same year.

Black said the BCA represents more than 120 major Australian private sector companies, which employ more than one million workers.

He added that the council works closely with several associations and business groups, as well as government stakeholders at all levels, to facilitate Australian trade and investment with other countries. Australian businesses have established working relationships with many nations, including several in the ASEAN bloc.

“The BCA intends to expand its cooperation with Cambodia to further strengthen and expand business and trade relations,” he said.

Lim Heng, vice-president of the CCC, expressed his support for the new initiative, saying the chamber will work with the BCA to accelerate the work.

“We welcome this new initiative, as we do not yet have a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Secretariat. If the Cambodia-Australia Business Council is established, it will further promote economic cooperation,” he said.

The new council will also promote collaboration with the CCC offices in Melbourne and Sydney, Australia, which will further promote trade and investment.

According to a report from the Kingdom’s commerce ministry, the trade volume between Cambodia and the RCEP – the 10 ASEAN member states plus China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia – reached nearly $3 billion in 2023, a decrease of slightly more than 5% over the previous year.

Total trade volume between Cambodia and Australia reached more than $500 million, a decrease of just over 2%.