AUSTRALIA has taken some time to come around to the fact that it is, geographically at least, an Asian nation, says a banking representative from Down Under. But it has taken the economic recession in the industrialised nations over the past two years to accelerate that process, and now Australians are more aware - and appreciative - of their Asian ''roots''. Mr Ross Kolts, general manager of the Hongkong and China operations of Commonwealth Bank of Australia, says it is the nation's surging exports to Asia's fast-growing economies which will be the tool to lever the country out of recession before the other industrialised nations. Speaking at a luncheon held by the Peninsula Rotary Club, Mr Kolts said: ''My belief is that Australia will be the first out of the recession.'' Australia's GDP growth is forecast by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to achieve 3.5 per cent this year. This compares with forecasts of one per cent growth for Britain, 2.7 per cent for the United States and 0.3 per cent for Germany. The stage had been set internally for recovery, Mr Kolts said. Inflation was down to below two per cent - the lowest in the OECD - from a high of 12 per cent in 1982; the government had implemented substantive macro-and micro-economic reforms; interest rates had fallen to about six per cent from a high of 18 per cent; the tax regime was now the third lowest in the OECD; and total exports had doubled since 1980 from 15 per cent to 25 per cent of GDP. But it was trade links within Asia that gave Australia, the third largest economy in the region after Japan and China, the extra edge. ''Australia is realising that this is where we've got to be,'' he said. ''It's clear that we're becoming more closely tied to the region.'' In 1991 a whopping 12 per cent of gross domestic product was generated by exports to Asia - the destination of more than half of the country's total exports. Japan alone buys 27 per cent of Australia's exports, with the US ranking a distant second in taking about 11 per cent. Exports to South Korea, Singapore, New Zealand, Taiwan, Hongkong, Indonesia and China ranged between three and seven per cent each as a share of the total in 1991. But it was the growth in exports to these markets which underpinned Australia's economic prospects, Mr Kolts said. Over the past two decades, growth in exports to Asia has been substantially higher than to other parts of the world. Exports to South Korea have jumped on average some 34 per cent a year since 1971, while those destined for Taiwan and Singapore grew at an average annual rate of more than 20 per cent during the period. Exports to Hongkong, China and Malaysia rose at an annual clip of more than 15 per cent, while those to Japan and New Zealand logged in annual increases of about 13 per cent. By contrast, growth in total exports to all other countries combined rose by 13 per cent a year on average. But China was the market which offered the most opportunity for Australian business.