Australian Embassy
Lao People's Democratic Republic
Km 4, Thadeua Road, Watnak (P.O. Box 292)

Laos, Southeast Asia and Australia: opportunities for shared economic prosperity

Australia is deepening our economic engagement with Southeast Asia

As Special Envoy for Southeast Asia appointed by Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, I am leading the development of the Australian Government’s Southeast Asia Economic Strategy to 2040. The strategy will set out a practical pathway to boost two-way trade and investment between Australia, ASEAN countries and Timor-Leste.

Senator the Hon Penny Wong, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Australia (left), Mr Nicholas Moore, Special Envoy for Southeast Asia (centre) and the Hon Anthony Albanese, Prime Minister of Australia (right).

To help inform the Southeast Asia Economic Strategy to 2040, I have been consulting across Australia and the region on the opportunities and barriers to economic growth. This week I am in Vientiane on my first visit to Laos, to hear local perspectives and learn how Australian capability, technology and investment can help meet the needs of Laos’ growing economy.

We have a strong base in the region to work from. Australia’s two-way trade with ASEAN is more than 14% of Australia’s overall trade, surpassing A$150 billion (US$100 billion) in 2021-22. This is greater than Australia’s two-way trade with Japan or the United States.

Emerging regional trends, including growing middle classes, urbanisation and demographic shifts will transform Southeast Asian economies over the next two decades. Lao People’s Democratic Republic has one of the most youthful populations in our region with almost 55% of the population under the age of 25. Across Southeast Asia, this large, productive demographic base of 670 million people holds incredible potential to drive growth to 2040 and beyond.

Australia is a trusted and reliable partner and has much to offer Laos and our broader region in areas such as education, agriculture technology and renewable energy. In 2021-22, our two-way trade in goods and services was A$617 million. While this is more than double the previous year, there is room to grow.

Senator the Hon Penny Wong, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Australia (left), His Excellency Saleumxay Kommasith, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lao PDR (right).

Australia has also provided a stable market for Lao exports, mainly in gold, telecommunications equipment, and electric machinery. In Laos, Australian companies have invested in mining, forestry, banking and tourism, and bring innovation, international best practice and new employment to the local economy.

We contribute to Southeast Asia’s energy security, food security, and infrastructure. Our investments and development assistance in Laos have supported economic growth through establishing world class mines, improving education outcomes, enhancing transport connectivity and strengthening public financial management.

The Special Envoy for Southeast Asia Nicholas Moore (left) and Vice Minister Mr Manothong Vongsay (right), Ministry of Industry and Commerce

Under the Australian Government’s Partnerships for Infrastructure (P4I) initiative, Australia is providing at least A$10 million to improve transport connectivity, trade and logistics, and help Laos attract quality investment and facilitate business growth. This is vital to the secure and stable economic futures our countries seek.

The speed of Laos’ evolution to become Southeast Asia’s largest electricity exporter is impressive, with its electricity generation predicted to reach 70 terawatts by 2040. The new Laos-Australia Sustainable Energy Partnership, which was signed in May 2023, will support Laos’ green economy ambitions and share Australian expertise in energy planning, emerging technologies, and the clean energy transition. We are exploring new opportunities to increase cooperation on solar, hydrogen and energy storage, wind, and hydropower integration projects.

The Special Envoy for Southeast Asia paid a courtesy call to the Ministry of Planning and Investment.

With more than 60% of Laos’ workforce in the agriculture sector, I am confident there are also opportunities for greater exchange with Australia. Our skills and knowledge in agribusiness, sustainable and productive agriculture and food systems could help strengthen Laos’ agriculture.

We share more than 70 years of bilateral relations – the longest unbroken diplomatic relationship Laos has with any country. Recent months have seen an increase in the tempo of our relations. Lao Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs His Excellency Saleumxay Kommasith visited Australia in October 2022, Prime Ministers announced their intention to elevate the bilateral relationship to a Comprehensive Partnership in November 2022, and Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Senator the Hon Penny Wong visited Laos in May 2023.

More than 17,000 people with Lao ancestry live in Australia – a popular destination for Lao students. His Excellency Saleumxay was the first student from Laos to graduate from Monash University in Melbourne. Our Australia Awards scholarship program has also supported tertiary education in Australia for more than 1300 Lao citizens, who have contributed further to Laos’ development.

Australia and Laos are parties to the Agreement Establishing the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Area and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement. These agreements have been essential to trade. While our trade relationship continues to grow, our shared economic future will depend on how we address trade and investment barriers, as well how we approach partnerships and opportunities.

Australia is invested in Laos and Southeast Asia. We will be ambitious in the Southeast Asia Economic Strategy to 2040, to deepen our economic engagement with the region for our shared security and prosperity.

The Special Envoy for Southeast Asia Nicholas Moore and delegates visit Wat Sisaket


By Nicholas Moore, Australia’s Special Envoy for Southeast Asia