Skip to content
Australian Government - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally

Australian Government - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally

1.1.5 South and West Asia, Middle East and Africa


Photo - See caption below for description
Australian Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mr Ric Smith AO PSM, AusAID Director-General, Mr Peter Baxter, Australian Ambassador to Afghanistan, Mr Paul Foley, and representatives from DFAT, AusAID, the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Defence Force, meeting with their Dutch colleagues in Uruzgan Province, Afghanistan.

The department continued to play a key role in shaping Australia’s whole-of-government engagement in Afghanistan, including work to enhance Australia’s contribution to international diplomatic, development and governance efforts.

Australia and India announced a Strategic Partnership, issued a Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation and completed a Joint Free Trade Agreement (FTA) Feasibility Study. The department implemented a substantial public diplomacy program following extensive negative media reporting in India on attacks on Indian students in Australia. We worked with other government agencies to reform education and migration arrangements for overseas students.

We forged a strategy to invigorate and strengthen Australia’s relationship with Pakistan. This included practical initiatives to expand defence cooperation, law enforcement ties, development assistance and strategic dialogue.

We supported the development of Australia’s significant post-conflict humanitarian response in Sri Lanka. We worked closely with the Sri Lankan Government to combat people smuggling and called on them to pursue reconciliation with all ethnic groups.

Supporting international efforts to address deep concern about Iran’s nuclear program, we led whole-of-government policy on Iran. We also led implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1929, which imposed an additional series of sanctions measures against Iran’s proliferation-sensitive nuclear and missile programs, and the introduction of further autonomous sanctions.



Exports Exports Imports Imports
Goods and services 2008
Trend growth 2004–2009
Trend growth 2004–2009
India 16,530 18,174 24.0 2,537 2,697 15.2
Bangladesh(b) 256 409 7.2 54 148 21.1
Pakistan(b) 432 528 0.8 169 163 2.4
Other South Asia(b) 296 287 4.6 112 111 6.3
Total South Asia 17,514 19,398 22.0 2,872 3,119 14.1
Bahrain (b) (c) 178 143 7.9 213 84 –0.7
Kuwait(b) 501 489 –0.3 481 354 26.3
Oman(b) 705 375 18.5 14 97 105.7
Qatar(b) 183 182 9.5 402 443 13.3
Saudi Arabia(b) 2,494 1,724 –0.2 890 631 –10.4
United Arab Emirates(b) 3,924 2,108 20.0 2,316 2,147 32.8
Total GCC(b) 7,984 5,020 8.9 4,316 3,756 12.6

(a) Goods data on a recorded trade basis, services data on a balance of payments basis.
(b) Goods data only. Services data is not published by the ABS for these countries.
(c) Excludes exports of alumina (aluminium oxide) to Bahrain which are confidential in ABS trade statistics.
Based on DFAT STARS database and ABS catalogue 5368.0.55.004.

We led government efforts to enhance engagement with countries in the Middle East, in particular with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. This included supporting a number of visits to the region.

We coordinated the implementation of six bilateral memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with the Iraqi Government.

We continued to strengthen relations with Africa. We worked closely with AusAID on Australia’s expanded development assistance program. We facilitated the establishment of diplomatic relations with São Tomé and Principe, Togo, Equatorial Guinea, Cape Verde, Central African Republic and Somalia.


In 2010, the Government committed to increasing Australia’s contribution to integrated civil-military efforts in Afghanistan, including through the provision of additional diplomatic, aid and policy personnel and heading the multinational Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) to replace the Netherlands in Uruzgan from August 2010. The department played a key role in planning for this enhanced engagement, and will continue to coordinate Government activity and interaction with our key partners on international efforts in Kabul and other capitals.

The department facilitated the participation of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Smith, and the Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mr Ric Smith, at a number of international forums on Afghanistan. These included the London Conference on Afghanistan in January 2010 and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization/International Security Assistance Force Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Tallinn, Estonia, in April 2010. These multilateral conferences provided important opportunities for the international community to promote effective coordination with the Afghan Government on security, development and governance.


In November 2009, we supported the visit to India by the then Prime Minister, Mr Rudd. During the visit, it was jointly agreed to elevate the relationship to the level of a strategic partnership. A Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation was issued and, in a joint statement, both countries committed to boosting: defence and security cooperation; regional and multilateral cooperation; economic engagement; cooperation in energy, climate change and water resources; science and education links through knowledge partnership; and cultural and sporting ties. Australia announced a further $50 million contribution to the Australia–India Strategic Research Fund, which was matched by India. Australia also announced a major increase in its diplomatic presence in India, including in our consulates-general in Chennai and Mumbai, to underpin the growth of the strategic partnership.

Photo - See caption below for description
The then Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, meeting with the President of India, Mrs Pratibha Patil, at the Presidential Palace in New Delhi on 12 November 2009.
Photo: Raveendran / AFP

Australia’s trade and economic relationship with India grew strongly over the past year. India became Australia’s third-largest export market in 2009, up from fifth in 2008 and seventh in 2007. Total exports to India were worth $18.2 billion in 2009. Australia’s exports to India have grown at an average annual rate of 24 per cent over the past five years.

To further strengthen ties with India, we supported nine ministerial visits there. These included two visits each by Mr Smith and the then Minister for Trade, Mr Crean, as well as visits by the then Deputy Prime Minister, now Prime Minister, Ms Gillard, the Treasurer, now also Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Swan, Minister for Resources and Energy, Mr Ferguson, Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Mr Evans, and Minister for Sport, Ms Ellis. The visit by Mr Smith in October 2009 for the annual Foreign Ministers’ Framework Dialogue prepared the ground for the Prime Ministerial visit. Mr Crean’s May 2010 visit for the 12th meeting of the Joint Ministerial Commission with his Indian counterpart, Commerce and Industry Minister, Mr Anand Sharma, advanced the economic relationship. The trade ministers announced the completion of the Australia–India joint FTA feasibility study, which recommended that both governments consider negotiation of a comprehensive bilateral FTA. Mr Crean and Mr Sharma endorsed the feasibility study recommendation, noting that both sides would need to undertake further internal processes before negotiations could be launched.

In 2009–10, the department also supported meetings for Mr Smith and Mr Crean with visiting Indian Ministers including Minister of External Affairs, Mr SM Krishna, Minister of Human Resource Development, Mr Kapil Sibal, Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs, Mr Vayalar Ravi, and Minister of Power, Mr Sushil Kumar Shinde.

Attacks on Indian students in Australia were of concern to Australian and Indian governments. Heightened media interest caused significant damage to Australia’s image in India. We established a unit to coordinate the Government’s responses to the issue, work closely with state and territory governments and contribute to reforms to education and migration arrangements.

We led a substantial public diplomacy program to deepen understanding of Australia in India. This included five group visits of a total of 25 Indian journalists under the International Media Visits Program, and an internship for an Indian TV journalist with Australia Network. We also hosted three visits by emerging Indian politicians under the Special Visits Program, as well as two visits by influential Indian commentators under the auspices of the Australia–India Council. In May, we sponsored the 2010 New Delhi Advance Summit. Through these activities, we presented a contemporary view of Australian culture and society, and highlighted the strengths of the bilateral relationship. (For further information on India-related public diplomacy activities, see sub-program 1.1.13).


The department helped drive a revitalised strategy on Australia’s engagement with Pakistan, which supported that country’s efforts to address security, economic, development and governance challenges, and advanced our interests in strengthened regional stability. We worked with other agencies on a range of practical initiatives, including increased defence training, law enforcement and counter-terrorism capacity building, strategic dialogue and expanded development and humanitarian assistance. We also led Australia’s participation in the Friends of Democratic Pakistan (FoDP).

Sri Lanka

Working with AusAID, the department supported a major increase in Australian assistance to Sri Lanka, to address the post-conflict humanitarian needs of internally displaced people.

Mr Smith visited Colombo in November 2009. During the visit, Mr Smith and the then Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, Mr Rohitha Bogollagama, signed a joint statement and witnessed an MOU on cooperation in people smuggling. Australia and Sri Lanka have worked together closely to disrupt people smuggling ventures. The department, including through support for the work of Mr John McCarthy as Special Envoy on Sri Lanka, was active in promoting international engagement with Sri Lanka.

During his visit, and also in two statements to Parliament in September 2009 and March 2010, Mr Smith called on Sri Lanka to take advantage of the opportunity afforded by the end of the conflict to pursue genuine reconciliation and a political solution acceptable to all of its ethnic groups. Mr McCarthy reiterated these points during his two visits to Sri Lanka.

We also held two dialogues with Tamil community representatives in Australia. Mr Smith attended the inaugural dialogue in September 2009.

Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives

The department advanced trade and economic links with Bangladesh, including supporting trade liberalisation and micro-economic reform in the energy sector. We supported a March 2010 visit to Bangladesh by Mr Mick Gooda, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Social Justice Commissioner, to share experiences on development of indigenous communities in Australia and Bangladesh.

In 2010, Australia and Nepal marked 50 years of diplomatic relations with a series of celebrations in both countries. The department supported the April 2010 visit to Nepal by Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance, Mr McMullan. This was the first high-level visit from Australia since 1985 and it provided an opportunity to express Australia’s support for Nepal’s peace process and an ongoing mandate for the United Nations Mission in Nepal and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Mr McMullan also announced $800 000 to support the establishment of an Electoral Resource Centre.

We supported a visit to Australia by the President of Maldives, Mr Mohamed Nasheed. This visit provided a useful opportunity to underline Australia’s support for democracy and our commitment to cooperation in international climate change negotiations.

South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation

Australia participated for the first time as an observer at the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit in Bhutan in April 2010. With support from the department, Mr McMullan represented Australia, delivering an opening address which underlined Australia’s shared interests with the region in security, economic growth and democracy. He also announced Australia’s contribution of $1 million for an agriculture project aimed at improving water sustainability to address food security in South Asia, which will be delivered by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

Middle East

The department led whole-of-government policy on Iran to support international efforts to address concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. This included implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1929 and imposing new autonomous sanctions against Iran. We conveyed the Government’s concern to Iranian officials over the human rights situation in Iran, especially following the presidential election in June 2009.

Photo - See caption below for description
The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Smith, with the Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates, His Royal Highness Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, signing a Memorandum of Understanding on the establishment of a Joint Committee on Consular Affairs between Australia and the UAE.

We intensified engagement with the Gulf countries (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman), including through agreement to hold the Australia-GCC Foreign Ministers Strategic Dialogue and cooperation in the areas of counter-terrorism, defence, law enforcement and trade. We also continued to facilitate closer engagement with other countries in the Middle East and North Africa. We supported high-level visits to the region, including by the Governor-General (to the UAE), Minister for Resources and Energy (to Qatar), the Assistant Treasurer (to the UAE, Qatar and Bahrain), the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research (to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Syria and the UAE), and the Minister for Environment Protection, Heritage and the Arts (to Morocco). We undertook senior officials’ talks with the GCC and Egypt.

In February 2010, we supported the visit to Australia by UAE Foreign Minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, including signing of an MOU on the establishment of a Joint Committee on Consular Affairs. We also supported a visit by the Saudi Arabian Minister of Higher Education, Dr Khalid Al Ankary.

The department supported the Government in its response to the abuse of Australian passports in connection with the assassination of a senior Hamas figure and provided advice in relation to the Government’s response to the Gaza flotilla incident. We continued to support efforts to achieve peace and stability in the Middle East. This included strong support for Israel’s security, and a two-state solution.

Australia provided over $45.9 million in 2009–10 for the development of Palestinian institutions and humanitarian assistance.

We continued to work closely with the Government of Iraq to broaden the bilateral relationship, including by coordinating the implementation of six MOUs—on agriculture; resources and energy; trade cooperation; cooperation in education, training and research; health cooperation; and security and border control. In April 2010, we led the first senior officials’ talks in Baghdad.

Personal Profile:

Photo - See caption below for description
Photo courtesy of Blue Media

Ann Harrap

Having served her first posting in South Africa from 1994 to 1997, Ann Harrap returned to Pretoria as High Commissioner in December 2008. Accredited to seven countries in southern Africa (Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland, Lesotho, Mozambique, Angola and South Africa), she advocates Australia’s growing political, economic and security interests on the continent to a wide range of government, business, media and community organisations. She highlights Australia’s expanded development assistance program in Africa, and is particularly proud of the Australia Awards program, through which up to 1000 scholarships will be offered to African students by 2013.

In 2010, one of Ann’s biggest challenges was coordinating the High Commission’s consular and public diplomacy effort during the FIFA World Cup. As over 10 000 Australians visited South Africa for the tournament, innovative consular contingency planning was needed. At match locations, Pretoria’s consular teams operated out of ‘mobile embassies’ (specially-badged mobile homes) to deliver consular services.

“To be a High Commissioner in Africa at a time when the continent is really going places, politically and economically—and when the Government is keen to enhance Australia’s engagement with the constituent countries and the continent as a whole—is a tremendous opportunity. I was in South Africa for the first democratic election in 1994, for the famous racially-unifying South African victory in the Rugby World Cup in 1995, and for the successful hosting of the largest sporting event on earth, the FIFA World Cup in 2010—it doesn’t get much better than that!”


Photo - See caption below for description
The then Minister for Trade, Mr Crean, signing a document that renewed a framework for bilateral cooperation on climate change with the South African Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Ms Buyelwa Sonjica, during his visit in February 2010.

The department worked with the Department of Defence and AusAID to build contact with the African Union (AU). Mr Smith announced that Australia would open a new embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the seat of the AU, to advance our regional engagement and boost relations with Ethiopia. We supported the visit to Australia by the Deputy Chairperson of the AU Commission, Mr Erastus Mwencha, who met Mr Smith, Mr McMullan and a range of senior officials.

We supported a visit by Mr Smith to South Africa and Botswana in January 2010. In South Africa, Mr Smith met senior South African ministers, including Vice-President Mr Kgalema Motlanthe, and agreed to annual foreign minister meetings. In Botswana, Mr Smith conducted meetings with Botswana’s President and Foreign Minister. He signed an action plan to increase bilateral cooperation and visited the headquarters of the Southern African Development Community.

We also supported a visit in February 2010 by Mr Crean to South Africa, Australia’s largest trading partner in Africa, to advance Australia’s economic interests. Mr Crean met South African economic ministers and renewed Australia’s climate change partnership with South Africa. He also led Australia’s official delegation to the Mining Indaba conference in Cape Town, holding bilateral discussions with mining ministers from South Africa, Tanzania, Mozambique, Ghana, Senegal, Eritrea, Namibia and Mali.

The department supported increased high-level political engagement with the region, including the visit to Australia by Ghana’s Foreign Minister, Alhaji Muhammad Mumuni and the Foreign Minister of Mozambique, Mr Oldemiro Baloi. We also coordinated a range of other senior visits, including those by the Treasurer-General of the African National Congress of South Africa, Dr Mathews Phosa, the Assistant Minister of Livestock Development from Kenya, Mr Aden Duale, and Dr Kwesi Aning of the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre based in Ghana.

Personal Profile:

Photo - See caption below for description
Mr Stuart Mooney, Second Secretary in Abuja, Nigeria, distributes health supplies to workers at the Primary Health Centre in Kabusa, Nigeria, as part of a Direct Aid Program project.

Stuart Mooney

In April 2010, the Australian High Commission in Abuja welcomed Stuart Mooney to its team of officers, charged with enhancing relations with Nigeria and other countries of non-resident accreditation in the region. In his role as Second Secretary, Stuart promotes Australia’s international trade policy, reports on political and economic developments, assists Australians in the region as Vice-Consul, and undertakes a range of other functions to ensure the ongoing operation of this small post.

“It’s an exciting time to be working at the coalface of Australian foreign policy, as we strengthen our engagement with West Africa. I feel honoured to contribute toward Australia’s growing diplomatic, trade, security and development relationships with African nations as they emerge onto the world stage. On a personal level, it is a great privilege to live with and learn from such a colourful and vibrant people as the Nigerians, notwithstanding some of the challenges of living in sub-Saharan Africa.”

The promotion of Australia’s commercial engagement in Africa remained a key focus for the department, especially in the natural resources sector. There were more than 150 Australian resources companies active in 40 African countries. We again hosted, with Austrade, major promotions of Australian mining expertise at the Africa Down Under Conference in Perth in September 2009, and at the Mining Indaba conference in Cape Town in February 2010.

We led Australia’s efforts to press for political reform and economic reconstruction in Zimbabwe. With AusAID, we worked to expand Australia’s development assistance from humanitarian relief to focus on economic recovery. We also supported visits to Australia by two key reform-minded Zimbabwean ministers: Finance Minister, Mr Tendai Biti; and Education, Sports, Arts and Culture Minister, Senator David Coltart. We worked with other agencies to respond to humanitarian crises in Africa, including in Sudan and Somalia, and worked through the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission to support peace-building efforts in Burundi and Sierra Leone.


Photo - See caption below for description
The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Smith, with the Ghanaian Minister for Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, Alhaji Muhammad Mumuni, in Canberra on 30 June 2010
Photo: Mark Graham

A major focus will be support for Australia’s enhanced civilian contribution in Afghanistan.

The department will continue to seek to deepen relations with India, including by taking forward the strategic partnership and moving towards the commencement of FTA negotiations.

We will continue to lead the Government’s enhanced, long-term engagement with Pakistan. We will also continue to work with the international community, including as a member of the Friends of Democratic Pakistan, to support the democratically elected Government of Pakistan.

Working with the international community to address concerns about Iran’s nuclear program will be a high priority for the department.

In the Middle East, we will continue to build closer relations with the GCC and its member states, and enhance engagement with other countries in the Middle East and Africa. We will also continue our close engagement with the Government of Iraq, in coordination with other agencies, to assist Iraq’s reconstruction and development. We will continue to cooperate closely with Israel and provide support for the Middle East peace process.

The department, including through the new embassy in Addis Ababa, will work with other agencies to advance Australia’s engagement with African countries, regional organisations and the African Union. We will continue to promote Australian investment and the activities of Australian companies in Africa, and to deepen cooperation on political, development, and peace and security issues.

Next page: 1.1.6 Pacific
Previous page: 1.1.4 Europe

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade