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Australia Eyes Closer Economic Engagement with Laos

Source: Vientiane Times

Business and economic connectivity between Laos and Australia look set to be one of the key drivers of the growing relationship between the two nations in upcoming years, according to a top Australian diplomat in Laos.

Speaking at an event to mark Australia Day on February 8 at the Australian Embassy in Vientiane, Mr. Paul Kelly said that apart from ongoing engagement, Australia is looking for ways to strengthen business investment and economic connectivity with Laos. “One area that I expect will also be prominent in our growing relationship will be supporting business investment and economic connectivity,” he told the gathering to mark Australia Day, which falls on January 26.

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Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Saleumxay Kommasith, senior government officials, foreign diplomats, and representatives of development partners attended the event, which showcased Australia’s history and culture and the unbroken diplomatic relations between Laos and Australia.

To strengthen Australia’s economic engagement with Southeast Asia, including Laos, Mr. Kelly said the Australian government had appointed an eminent Australian business leader, Nicholas Moore, to head the development of Australia’s Southeast Asia Economic Strategy to 2040. “This strategy will map emerging trade and investment opportunities across key sectors in Southeast Asia and match those with Australian capabilities. The strategy will also provide practical recommendations to bolster two-way trade and grow Australian investment in the region,” he said.

According to the ambassador, thanks to the close interaction between high-level Australian and Lao leaders, the two governments agreed with last November to elevate the countries’ bilateral relationship to a comprehensive partnership. This elevation will explore ways to expand or deepen areas of bilateral and regional cooperation – on human resources, on energy and climate change, and on transnational crime, he said.

Mr. Kelly said the Australian government had committed to working closely with Laos through the Asean framework due to the fact Laos is Australia’s ‘Country Coordinator’ for Asean from 2022 to 2024. Laos will also be the Chair of ASEAN in 2024. Australia is one of the key development partners of Laos, with support mainly focused on human resource development through Australian government scholarships and skill development and training.

In the 1990s, Australia financed the construction of the first Lao-Thai friendship bridge across the Mekong River, which was a significant milestone in Laos’ integration with the global economy and the country’s transformation from a landlocked to a land bridge.