New Zealand's Foreign Minister Murray McCully has announced the country's biggest scholarship scheme to provide 100 new education scholarships, bringing the total up to 170 each year for developing ASEAN countries.

The scheme is aimed at helping ASEAN countries develop emerging leaders and strengthening their civil service capabilities, Foreign Minister Murray McCully said in a media release on July 22.

It will be the biggest scholarship scheme involving New Zealand since the Colombo Plan began in 1951 and is one of four initiatives that will help New Zealand strengthen its relationship with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), he said.

"ASEAN has ambitious development plans over the next five years, and New Zealand, as a key regional partner, will offer its support by providing expertise in a number of areas," said McCully, who is in Hanoi to attend the ASEAN-New Zealand Post Ministerial Conference, the ASEAN Regional Forum, East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers' consultations, and the South West Pacific Dialogue meeting.

According to the minister, the other initiatives include a Young Business Leaders Exchange Programme, which will seek to develop a new generation of business relationships in the region to underpin the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (AANZFTA) which came into force this year. New Zealand will also launch programmes within ASEAN that cover agricultural development and disaster risk management, both areas where New Zealand expertise complements the needs of ASEAN member states.

The growing strength and significance of New Zealand's relationship with ASEAN is being matched by a dynamic increase in trade. ASEAN is now New Zealand's third-largest trading partner, with two-way trade worth around 10 billion NZD last year.

This year marks 35 years of Dialogue Partnership between New Zealand and ASEAN, which comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam./.