Australia raises dev't aid for SEA to A$945

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/02 November) – Australia has increased its development assistance to Southeast Asia to A$945 million until next year as it reiterated its commitment to support the ongoing efforts to integrate the region’s economies by the year 2015.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said their allotted total Official Development Assistance (ODA) for 2010-2011 to the 10 member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has so far increased by 48 percent since 2007.

In a report released for the 1st ASEAN-Australia Summit in Hanoi, Vietnam last Saturday, Australia said among the key areas of development cooperation being undertaken in the region are education and rural development and food security that received an allocation of A$150 million and A$70 million, respectively.

The Philippines had been among the top beneficiaries of Australia’s educational assistance, among them the Australian Agency for International Development’s (AusAID) Basic Education Assistance for Mindanao (BEAM) Project.

The BEAM Project, a partnership initiative between the Department of Education (DepED) and AusAID, aims to improve the quality of and access to basic education in various conflict-affected areas in Mindanao.

Under the rural development and food security cooperation, the four-page report cited that Australian-funded agricultural projects being implemented in various parts of the country, including Mindanao, “contributed to an increase in monthly household incomes from A$82 to $A146” or an improvement of over 70 percent.

It said the program has provided local farmers with “seeds for higher-value crops, warehouse for storage and training to improve their financial management.”

The report said Australia’s ongoing development cooperation assistance for the region includes A$120 for economic growth; A$100 million for connectivity and infrastructure; A$100 million for law, justice and government support; A$60 million for health, HIV/AIDS and pandemic preparedness; A$45 million for humanitarian, emergency and refugee assistance; and, A$30 million for environment and natural resources management.

Gillard, who joined the ASEAN heads of states in a meeting before the conclusion of the 17th ASEAN Summit last Saturday in Hanoi’s National Convention Center, reiterated her government’s commitment to further strengthen its economic ties with the region.

She cited that since Australia officially signed up to become ASEAN’s dialogue partner in 1974, merchandise trading between them has grown to A$60.9 billion as of this year.

Gillard said more than 15 percent of all of Australia’s trade is presently concentrated in the ASEAN region.

“The 2010 ASEAN-Australia, New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is the largest free trade agreement that Australia has entered into. It covers more than 610 million people with a combined gross domestic product of A$3.1 trillion,” she stressed.

President Aquino acknowledged in his speech at the 1st Australia-ASEAN Summit that the new agreement was considered the “most comprehensive free trade agreement” that ASEAN has entered into.

As part of the implementation of the FTA, the President requested Australia to study the easing of non-tariff barriers to trade, among them its phyto-sanitary standards for the importation of tropical fruits.

“Considering that the level of cooperation between ASEAN and Australia has grown over the three decades of our partnership, the Philippines looks forward to an even higher level of alliance between ASEAN and Australia in the future,” he added. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)