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Mongolia country brief

Australia-Mongolia Relations

Resource-rich, strategically located and outward-looking, Mongolia is the world's most sparsely populated country, with 3 million people spread over an area almost as big as Queensland. In the 20th century, as a satellite state of the former Soviet Union, Mongolia had a primarily agrarian and centrally-planned economy. Following structural reforms and privatisation since the 1990s, it emerged as a developing democracy with one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. From the mid-1990s, Mongolia has pursued a 'third neighbour' policy which seeks to engage countries with similar views on human rights, democracy and free markets. Engagement with countries, such as Australia, has helped Mongolia expand its trade, investment, development cooperation and foreign policy contacts beyond its immediate neighbours, Russia and China.

Diplomatic Relations

Australia established diplomatic relations with Mongolia on 15 September 1972. Bilateral engagement accelerated following democratic and free-market reforms in Mongolia in the early 1990s. The focus of the relationship to date has been on education, development assistance and commercial activities in Mongolia's resources sector. There are also strong people-to-people links and deepening political engagement.

Mongolia opened an embassy in Canberra in 2008. The Australian Trade and Investment Commission (Austrade) opened a trade office in Ulaanbaatar to serve the needs of Australian business in 2011. The Australian Embassy in Ulaanbaatar was opened in December 2015.

High-level visits

High-level visits between Mongolia and Australia reinforce ongoing cooperation between the countries. At head-of-state level, then Governor-General Bill Hayden visited Mongolia in 1994 and Mongolia's first democratically elected President, Punsalmaagiin Ochirbat, visited Australia in 1997. In February 2011, then Prime Minister of Mongolia, His Excellency Sukhbaatar Batbold, visited Australia as a guest-of-government. His delegation included several Mongolian ministers, parliamentarians and businesspeople. Then Prime Minister Gillard welcomed Prime Minister Batbold as the first Mongolian Head of Government to visit Australia and released a joint statement (Joint Statement by Prime Ministers Gillard and Batbold). In March 2014, Mongolian Foreign Minister, Luvsanvandan Bold visited Australia, the first Mongolia Foreign Minister to visit Australia since 1993.

Other senior Mongolian visits to Australia include:

  • January 2020, Chairman of the Great State Khural, Zandanshatar Gombojav, attended the Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum in Canberra and met with Speaker Tony Smith and Senator Dean Smith.
  • March 2019, Deputy Minister for Labour and Social Protection, Sanjaa Mungunchimeg led a delegation to meet with government officials and members of the academic community to learn about Australia’s social and human services policies and approaches;
  • February 2019, Governor of Nalaikh District, Radnaabazar Choijinsambuu, visited Goulburn to formally establish the Nalaikh-Goulburn sister city relationship, enhancing people-to-people and municipal government links;
  • April 2019, Narambaatar Nanzad, Governor for Umnugobi Province, led a health study tour to Victoria, focused on the delivery of health services in remote areas;
  • June 2019, the Director of Mineral Resources for the National Geoscience Database of Mongolia, Namsrai Nunkhbileg, and other officials visited as part of ongoing engagement with Australia’s geoscience industry and GeoScience Australia;
  • August 2019 Batkhuyag Mergee, General Director of Mongolia’s Treasury Department, met with Department of Finance and Treasury officials, to understand Australia’s approach to government financial management.
  • October 2018, the Mongolian Minister for Mining and Heavy Industry, Sumiyabazar Dolgorsuren, led a delegation to the International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) in Melbourne, where he met Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, Senator the Hon Matthew Canavan
  • October 2017, Dendev Terbishdagva, Chair of the Standing Committee on Economics, and three other MPs met then Foreign Minister Bishop and Ann Sudmalis MP, Chair of the Australia-Mongolia Parliamentary Group, during their visit to Australia for IMARC 2017.
  • March 2016, Damba Gankhuyag, State Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Mongolia, led a delegation to Australia for High Level Consultations with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
  • May 2013, Mongolian Minister for Mining Davaajav Gankhuyag visited Australia for the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative Global Conference and the State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Gombo Tsogtsaikhan, visited Australia to meet with senior Australian Government officials.
  • 2011, Mongolian Deputy Prime Minister Miyegombo Enkhbold visited Australia to study our social welfare system.

Australian senior visits to Mongolia

  • July 2018, then Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, visited Ulaanbaatar to represent Australia at the Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (AMCDRR), hosted by Mongolia.
  • May 2017, Australia's Ambassador for Women and Girls, Dr Sharman Stone, visited Mongolia to highlight Australia's work to improve women's equality and economic empowerment in Mongolia.
  • April 2016, the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Gavin Marshall, attended the Asia Europe Parliamentary Meeting in Mongolia.
  • October 2012, then Foreign Minister Bob Carr visited Mongolia to open the Australian Consulate-General in Ulaanbaatar and discuss the bilateral relationship and growing commercial and aid ties.

The two countries have also had a number of official visits for inter-parliamentary engagement. In September 2012, a delegation of the House of Representatives Regional Australia Committee led by Tony Windsor MP visited Mongolia. In January 2011, Harry Jenkins MP, the then Speaker of the House of Representatives, led a delegation to the Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum hosted by Mongolia. In 2010, a delegation of Australian Members of Parliament led by Annette Hurley MP visited Mongolia and ten Mongolian State Secretaries visited Australia. In 2009, two delegations from Mongolia led by Members of Parliament visited Australia, and a group of four Australian Members of Parliament from the Australia-Mongolia Parliamentary Group visited Mongolia.

People-to-People links

People-to-people links between Australia and Mongolia continue to grow strongly. Since 1993-94, over 550 Australian scholarships have been provided to Mongolians to study in Australia. This has created a vibrant alumni network, affectionately known as ‘Mozzies’, many of whom have become influential Mongolian parliamentarians, officials and businesspeople.

Australia has long had a volunteer presence in Mongolia. Since 2011, approximately 300 Australian volunteers have contributed to Mongolia's development, with around 29 placements in 2018-19. Business is further deepening links between Australia and Mongolia. More than 650 Australians live in Mongolia, with a further 1,000 Australians visiting Mongolia on short-term assignments at any time. Over 50 Australian businesses are engaged in Mongolia, including several large companies operating in the mining sector.

Australia and Mongolia cooperate on global and regional issues, including in defence and security. Contributing to international peacekeeping and security has been a particular focus of our cooperation. Australians and Mongolians have served together in UN peacekeeping operations such as in South Sudan, where Mongolia has over 850 personnel deployed. The two countries have also deployed on coalition operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and peacekeeping operations in Kosovo and Sierra Leone. Australia and Mongolia hold regular bilateral defence policy talks, and Australia participates in the annual Khaan Quest peacekeeping exercises hosted by Mongolia.

Political overview

Mongolia held its first democratic elections in 1990 after 70 years of single-party rule. Members of the State Great Khural (Parliament) and the President are both elected for fixed four-year terms (on different electoral cycles). Executive power is shared by the Parliament and the President. The Cabinet is appointed by the Prime Minister. The President is the Commander-in-Chief and holds the power to veto legislation, although this can be overridden by a two-thirds majority in Parliament. There are two major political parties: the Mongolian People's Party (MPP), formerly the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party, which evolved from the communist single-party government, and the Democratic Party (DP) which grew out of Mongolia's 1990 democracy movement.

In the eight parliamentary elections held since the 1992 Constitution came into effect, power has alternated between the two major parties, with the DP forming grand coalition governments in 1996 and 2004. The MPP achieved a decisive victory in the June 2020 parliamentary election, winning 62 of 76 seats.

Since the 1992 Constitution came into effect, seven presidential elections have been held. In the last election on 26 June 2017, Khaltmaagiin Battulga (DP) was elected President. His appointment followed the long term appointment of Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj (DP) who was first elected in 2009 and then re-elected in 2013. A constitutional ruling meant he was unable to run for a third term. President Battulga is the 5th President of Mongolia. The next Presidential elections will be held in 2021.

Economic overview

Mongolia's economy is heavily linked to global mineral commodity prices. Mongolia's GDP grew in double digits until 2013. Growth fell to 2.4 per cent in 2015 and further slowed to 1.2 per cent in 2016 amid declining exports from a weakening of the commodity market and slower growth in the key export market of China. According to the World Bank, the economy picked up in 2017, primarily on the back of positive developments in the mineral sector. Growth in 2019 was 6.5 per cent, but the outlook for 2020 will be strongly affected by the economic impacts of COVID-19.

Agriculture (primarily herding), once the mainstay of the Mongolian economy, continues to decline as a share of national employment and contribution to GDP. According to the World Bank, in 2018, agriculture comprised approximately 11 per cent of GDP, while industry (including mining) accounted for approximately 39 per cent of GDP and services accounted for 50 per cent of GDP (2017 est.).

Mongolia's mining sector continues to grow strongly, and around 90 per cent of Mongolian exports are related to the mining industry, notably copper, gold and coal. Australian companies are well-placed to assist in developing Mongolia's resources, and there is strong commercial interest and investment potential in Mongolia's minerals and energy sector. The Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold mine alone is expected to account for as much as 30 per cent of Mongolia's GDP once full commercial ore production starts.

Bilateral trade between Australia and Mongolia is modest, with two-way merchandise trade totaling $44.4 million in 2018-19, with Australian exports accounting for the majority of trade at $43.6 million.). Australia's major exports to Mongolia included hand or machine tools ($7.4 million) electrical machinery ($3.5 million) and civil engineering equipment ($3.8 million). Australia's principal imports from Mongolia in 2018-19 were civil engineering equipment ($390,000), textile clothing ($94,000), and telecom equipment ($57,000).

The Mongolian economy is heavily reliant on foreign capital inflows and Mongolia possesses numerous assets, including raw materials, sizable livestock and many other sectors with high potential for development (mining, food processing, telecommunications, tourism). Mongolia ranks 81 out of 190 countries in the World Bank's 2020 Ease of Doing Business report. The inflation rate in Mongolia was 8.4 per cent for 2018.

China is Mongolia's largest trading partner, accounting for around 83 per cent of Mongolia's merchandise export revenues (predominantly copper and coal) and approximately 32 per cent of merchandise import expenditure in 2018. Strong demand from China along with high commodity prices helped Mongolia to recover strongly from the Global Financial Crisis. Increasing numbers of Chinese workers are providing labour in Mongolia.

The Mongolian Government confronts major challenges in managing a growing economy, large-scale foreign investment and the rising expectations of Mongolian citizens. While strong economic growth in previous years has helped the country reach lower-middle income status, Mongolia's poverty rate remains relatively high, with the World Bank reporting that about 28 per cent of the population still live in poverty (2018). All of these challenges are being exacerbated by COVID-19.

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