SINGAPORE: Singapore plans to drive e-commerce within the region when it chairs the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) next year.
This was highlighted as a priority on Monday (Jun 19) by Senior Minister of State of Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon at the inaugural Digitize ASEAN Conference organised by the Singapore Business Federation.
Dr Koh said that the digital economy in ASEAN could grow to US$200 billion (S$277 billion) over the next 10 years, with e-commerce accounting for US$88 billion.
"E-commerce is the new reality for businesses today," said Dr Koh. "Singapore will work with the rest of ASEAN to streamline regional trade rules governing e-commerce to promote greater digital connectivity and lower operating barriers to entry."
He added: "This will enhance the regional trade architecture for e-commerce, realise freer movement of e-commerce goods across Southeast Asia and support the regional expansion of companies based in ASEAN."
However, there are still some concerns among companies as to how far each country is willing to open up to greater regional trade rules governing e-commerce.
Mr Morgan Wee, managing partner at global recruitment firm EMA Partners International, had questions about protectionism among individual countries. “From a collaboration standpoint among all the ASEAN nations, I think it's easy to think about it in a broad brush but when it comes down to table and discussing and getting all countries to agree is a huge hurdle," he said. "(There is) a lot of protectionism in terms of e-wallets, so a question in my mind is - how far can we push this?"
SINGAPORE LEADING BY EXAMPLE
Singapore has previously said that it would focus on developing the regional digital economy when it assumes the ASEAN chairmanship in 2018.
On Monday, Dr Koh said the Singapore Government will lead by example through projects such as the national digital identity system and cashless payments. It also hopes to encourage more private sector players to adopt digital solutions.
He added that part of the digital economy involves having a workforce that is digitally savvy.
“At the sectoral-level, we are focused on helping companies to adopt digital technologies and to be digitally ready," he said. "At the same time, we want to create more opportunities for both the young and old to pick up relevant digital skills. Mid-career professionals can also take courses to make a switch into this growing field.”
Dr Koh noted that opportunities like access into new markets and the job creation will arise from this push towards a digital economy, and that Singapore is gearing up to capture this growth.
Agreeing, chairman of the ASEAN Business Advisory Council Singapore Robert Yap noted that sectors such as retail, logistics and supply chain management, as well as cyber-security, will see the need for more job openings in order to help grow their businesses in the digital economy.