The department deepened engagement in South and West Asia to advance Australia’s security, economic and trade interests and promote a stable and prosperous Indo–Pacific region.

We intensified economic and political dialogues and people-to-people links with India. The Australian and Indian Prime Ministers met at the G20 Summit in November immediately after the entry into force of the Australia–India Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, which will allow the export of uranium for India’s civil nuclear power needs. Visits to Australia by the Minister for Power, Coal and New and Renewable Energy, Piyush Goyal, and Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley, provided opportunities to promote Australian business interests and boost bilateral cooperation at the most senior levels of government.

The Secretary took part in a second senior officials-level Australia–India–Japan trilateral meeting in February. Officials canvassed regional opportunities and challenges facing the three countries. The Secretary also led Australia–India Senior Officials’ Talks. The department drove whole-of-government discussions with India on East Asia, non-proliferation, transnational crime including people smuggling, cyber policy and maritime security.

In what continues to be a challenging environment, we maintained our diplomatic presence in Afghanistan, contributing to international efforts to stabilise the country. High-level visits underlined Australia’s support for Afghanistan’s National Defence and Security Forces. The department led whole-of-government efforts to encourage international cooperation on Afghanistan’s future. We supported regional cooperation between Afghanistan and its western and central Asian neighbours through the Heart of Asia regional dialogue.

We reinvigorated dialogue with Bangladesh through senior officials’ talks on a range of topics, including counter-terrorism and irregular migration.

Improving market access for Australian goods and services remained a priority. We facilitated visits to India by the Trade and Investment Minister to advance negotiations for a mutually beneficial FTA. A visit by the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science to India in August boosted bilateral links in education and vocational skills. Senior government ministers and businesses participated in the first Australia–India Leadership Dialogue in New Delhi where discussions focused on improving investment and trade links.

In senior trade talks, Pakistan and Australian officials agreed to prioritise agribusiness, post-secondary education and the resources sectors. Responding quickly to positive political and economic developments in Sri Lanka, we ramped up our engagement with Australian businesses exploring opportunities in agribusiness, infrastructure, education, tourism and energy.

We delivered a targeted aid program in the South and West Asian region. In Afghanistan, our fourth largest bilateral aid program of $83 million focused on economic growth and governance, empowering women and girls and supporting at-risk populations. Our $48.8 million Pakistan bilateral aid program included investments in economic development, health and education. The department re-prioritised the $20.1 million bilateral aid program in Sri Lanka to focus on economic growth and post-conflict reconstruction. In Nepal, we funded recovery and reconstruction efforts following the devastating 2015 earthquakes. In Bangladesh, our $42.1 million bilateral aid program funded education and economic resilience measures.


Promoting a stable and prosperous regional and global environment by cultivating and deepening our engagement with bilateral and regional partners and multilateral institutions


Case Study
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop attending the IORA Council of Ministers meeting in Padang. [DFAT/Angky Septiana]
Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop (right), former chair of IORA, with current chair, Indonesia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Retno Marsudi (centre) and future chair South Africa’s Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Nomaindiya Mfeketo, 15th IORA Council of Ministers Meeting, Padang, October 2015. [DFAT/Angky Septiana]


The department’s coordination of Australia’s efforts as chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) (2013–2015) deepened our engagement with the region, strengthened the organisation’s international profile and institutional capacity, highlighted new economic opportunities and embedded gender-related norms.

With overwhelming support from IORA members, the department led Australia’s introduction of the blue economy—the sustainable management of our marine resources—as a policy priority. The Foreign Minister announced a $3 million Blue Economy Aquaculture Challenge to source scientific and technological innovations that could boost regional prosperity. The winning ideas will be trialled and tested in the Indian Ocean region.

Recognising that gender equality is a critical driver of economic growth in the region, the department championed the mainstreaming of women’s economic empowerment across IORA’s work.

We hosted several IORA women’s economic empowerment events, including with the UN Development Programme, UN Women and the Government of the Republic of Seychelles to strengthen member states’ commitment in this regard.

Australia’s Ambassador for Women and Girls launched a landmark report outlining the status of women in the region, called Enabling Women’s Contributions to the Indian Ocean Rim Economies. The report, the first of its kind covering IORA countries, will enhance evidence-based decision-making in support of women’s economic empowerment.

The department also worked hard to secure IORA observer status at the UN General Assembly and the African Union and shepherded development of an IORA Memorandum of Understanding on Search and Rescue to improve coordination of the region’s responses to maritime-related accidents.

Improving market access for Australian goods and services, attracting foreign investment to Australia and supporting Australian business abroad

Building economic relations with India’s states

Case Study
Then Minister for Trade and Investment Andrew Robb AO speaking with an IIT Madras Research Park technician (left), and Director Bhaskar Ramamurthi (2nd left), Chennai, 27 October 2015. [DFAT/Graham Crouch]

Building economic relations with India’s states

The 29 states of India play a major role in the economic life of the country—many have the populations and economies of mid-sized countries. Our posts in New Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai pursued economic partnership opportunities with Indian state governments to improve opportunities for Australian businesses in India and attract foreign investment to Australia. We focused on the larger states driving India’s growth—Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and West Bengal.

Our Chennai post worked with the Government of Andhra Pradesh to establish a multi-agency Economic Cooperation Working Group. By helping resolve licencing and regulatory issues, the working group facilitated the establishment and expansion of Australian mining operations, new university-to-university collaborations and the application of Australian water basin modelling technologies to manage scarce water resources.

The department also assisted Australian state governments to grow linkages with Indian states. Our Mumbai consulate-general supported New South Wales in its sister state relationship with Maharashtra, which has seen collaborative projects in agriculture, education and training and health. The consulate also supported the NSW and Gujarat governments develop cooperative projects in agriculture, urban management and skills development. The New Delhi high commission assisted the South Australian Government with its largest ever business mission to India in August 2015 and with the forging of a sister state agreement with Rajasthan in November 2015.

The Chennai consulate-general is assisting the Western Australian Government progress a sister state relationship with Andhra Pradesh founded on cooperation in mining, education and drylands agriculture. We are also exploring collaborative opportunities with India’s dynamic science and innovation sector centred in Bangalore, Karnataka.

Despite enormous economic potential, Australian business ties with India are underdone. The department’s engagement with the Indian states showed the benefits of coordinating closely with Austrade, other federal government departments and Australian state and territory governments to pursue opportunities for Australian business. In the long-term, these partnerships should deliver benefits for the Indian and Australian economies as companies from both countries become more aware of two-way opportunities.

Delivering an innovative
aid program, centred on the Indo–Pacific region, which contributes to sustainable economic growth, poverty reduction and regional stability

empowering women economically and developing markets in a challenging environment

Case Study
Australian High Commission staff in Pakistan meeting with a woman entrepreneur. [SRSP/Tauseef Ahmad]
Second Secretary (Development Cooperation) Hannah Birks (left) and LES officer Shoaib Tayyab (4th left) meet with an SRSP-supported woman entrepreneur, Nowshera, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 3 June 2016. [SRSP/Tauseef Ahmad]

Empowering women economically and developing markets in a challenging environment

The department’s aid program assists the Government of Pakistan and local communities in the border regions to reduce poverty and contribute to stability following decades of entrenched disadvantage, conflict and frequent natural disasters.

Through the department-funded partner, the Sarhad Rural Support Programme (SRSP), we are helping improve socio-economic conditions and economic opportunities, particularly for women in Khyber Pakhtunkwa—one of the most fragile and disadvantaged remote regions
of Pakistan.

Our funding assists women entrepreneurs build businesses, establish partnerships with the private sector, increase the value of their produce and access markets. We promote economic growth and increased incomes by facilitating market linkages and strengthening selected value chains.

Women are now contributing to the household income and participating in household decision-making, some for the first time in their lives. Recent reports show that women have benefited from value chain analysis, technical support in areas such as cattle husbandry, assistance in negotiations with buyers, and access to small grants and interest free loans.

In Nowshera District, 145 women benefited from a Community Investment Fund we have established. The women reported that they were using their income to send their children to school and grow their businesses. Three female members had been elected to village council and women had also established links with a group providing legal services to victims of domestic violence.

We are also providing opportunities for disadvantaged youth to receive technical and vocational training in selected trades and crafts suitable to local markets, responding to a high demand for such training, particularly among people displaced by conflict or natural disaster.

Women’s empowerment is difficult to achieve and measure in Pakistan. Women tend to be marginalised with few economic or political rights. Our success in this context is particularly notable. We are working closely to effectively capture women’s empowerment in program performance reporting.

Analysis and outlook

South Asia is one of the least integrated regions in the world and this stymies economic growth and poverty reduction. Future development and stability will depend on greater cooperation in the critical areas of regional connectivity and natural resource management. We will continue to work with South Asian partners to help address the ongoing economic, development and security challenges the region faces.

India’s growing role in the region reinforces its priority for Australia. Common interests in the Indo–Pacific provide a solid basis for deepening the relationship. We will host a foreign minister-level dialogue and work with the Australia India Institute on the second Leadership Dialogue. The first joint foreign and defence secretaries’ meeting is scheduled for 2016—a valuable new mechanism to coordinate our security and foreign policy objectives. We will continue to expand cooperation with India, including through the East Asia Summit and with like-minded partners such as Japan and the United States.

India’s economy is forecast to grow strongly over the medium term requiring additional foreign direct investment and reliable energy and resources supplies. We will pursue trade and investment opportunities, including by advocating Australian business interests and working to advance negotiations for the conclusion of a high-quality FTA.

While the security situation in Afghanistan deteriorated in the last year, this was expected as responsibility for national security moved from the 130,000-strong NATO-led international force to the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces. We will continue to work closely with the Afghan Government and the international community to strengthen the capacity of Afghan forces and ensure that Afghanistan does not again become a haven for terrorists.

The department will work with regional partners to counter transnational security threats such as terrorism and people-smuggling. We will seek to deepen security cooperation with Bangladesh through practical counter-terrorism cooperation measures.

In Sri Lanka we will advance our commercial and people smuggling interests, contribute to post-conflict reconciliation efforts and deliver an innovative aid program, with a focus on increasing women’s participation in the economy. We will continue to work with Pakistan to deepen cooperation, particularly in agriculture and post-secondary education. Development assistance will include support for protracted humanitarian crises.

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