The bright new dawn for Timor-Leste

The outlook is bright for Timor-Leste. 

A new era in the Pacific nation has dawned with the confirmation of a new government in late May, which alongside the increasing pace of economic development and change in region, is driving confidence in the country’s future. 

"[TL growth is set to continue] on the back of expanding infrastructure, tourism and a newly reinvigorated resources sector.” 

A short period of political deadlock and uncertainty has been resolved in a manner attracting international praise, with talk Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is likely to visit the country soon.

Growth is already solid: Timor-Leste’s gross domestic product has averaged annual growth of more than 5 per cent since 2001.

It’s hoped and expected that growth will continue in the medium term - on the back of expanding infrastructure, tourism and a newly reinvigorated resources sector.

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A key pillar of continued growth out of Timor-Leste comes from the huge natural gas opportunity in the Timor Sea. The region is home to offshore gas fields estimated to be worth anywhere up to $A65 billion.

In early 2018 Timor-Leste confirmed its ownership stake in the basin – potentially up to 80 per cent of the total volume.

Supporting this LNG development are $A300 million in plans to construct a new Tibar container port in the Timor-Leste capital Dili, due to start in late 2018.

There has been little onshore minerals exploration in Timor-Leste but gold, oil and gas, manganese, limestone and marble have been identified as potential resources. These industries are underdeveloped and would benefit from international interest and infrastructure investment. 

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Behind all these moves is a commitment to the nation’s 20-year strategic plan which outlines infrastructure spending on roads (including a $A300 million highway in Suai), electricity and a $A90 million airport.

Continued commitment and support from development partners like the Asian Development Bank and World Bank, as well as improving quality connective communications infrastructure (Timor-Leste has one of the highest mobile penetration rates in the Pacific) should also help support growth. 

Building foundations for the future

Key figures on Timor-Leste’s future infrastructure commitment.

State of play

  • 1,426 kilometres of National Roads and ~3,900km of District and Rural Roads ($US408 million to be spent between 2016 and 2020);
  • ~66 per cent of TL’s population have access to clean drinking water and ~40 per cent have access to sanitation facilities;
  • One international airport and seven national airports ($US207m to be spent between 2016 and 2020);
  • ~75 per cent of population have access to electricity (2015) compared with just 22 per cent in 2007; and
  • One international seaport ($US207m to be spent between 2016 and 2020).

Key state initiatives – medium term (2018-25)

  • Sunrise LNG Project (estimated value pf $US15.0 billion);
  • Oil refinery ($US3.0 billion) and Oil storage tank farm ($US150 million);
  • South coast new towns development ($US250 million);
  • Suai breakwater development ($US718 million);
  • Upgrade of Dili Airport (TBC)
  • Ongoing National Road Network upgrades ($US500 million); and
  • Development of tax free zone in Oecussi.

Planned private investment projects

  • Tibar Port $A300m ;
  • TL Cement plant ($US400 million)
  • Increasing investment in quality residential and commercial developments.


According to the World Population Review, almost 40 per cent of Timor-Leste’s people live below the poverty line. At least half lack sufficient literary skills. Still, the country is young - 60 per cent of its 1.2 million people aged less than 25 – and the growing population raises the real opportunity of long-term growth.

As of 2017, petroleum related activities generated 84.9 per cent of Timor-Leste’s government revenues.

Coffee accounted for over 90 per cent of non-oil merchandise exports and offers further opportunities. Exports in that sector increased to almost 29,000 tonnes in 2017, more than double their level over preceding three years.

Tourism, too, looms as an opportunity. Timor-Leste aims to triple its annual visitor numbers to 200,000 by 2030. The sector was worth some $14 million in 2014 but plans outlined aim to see that grow dramatically. 

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Andrew Young is CEO of ANZ Timor-Leste

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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