SINGAPORE: As Singapore takes over the rotating chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) this year, it will push for the roll-out of an e-commerce agreement and an innovation network to give businesses a leg-up when they expand across Southeast Asia.
This is according to Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade) Lim Hng Kiang as he spoke in Parliament during his ministry’s Committee of Supply debate on Friday (Mar 2).
The ASEAN agreement on e-commerce will help businesses expand and leverage on the region’s e-commerce market potential by streamlining governing trade rules.
Mr Lim said some companies are finding it confusing to navigate the varying e-commerce regulations across the ASEAN countries given that the region’s e-commerce scene remains at its infancy.
The agreement will streamline some of these regulations to promote greater digital connectivity and lower operating barriers to entry for businesses.
“So that aspiring entrepreneurs and SMEs can market their products and services regionally with greater ease, and make it safer to send and receive electronic payments,” said Mr Lim.
Negotiations between Singapore and ASEAN member states are ongoing to finalise the e-commerce agreement by the end of 2018.
Singapore will also take the advantage of its chairmanship to work on an ASEAN Innovation Network (AIN), announced Mr Lim.
The intent is to strengthen the networks between the innovation ecosystems in ASEAN, he said.
"This will further enable our companies to expand abroad, and help them to better respond to demands from the increasingly sophisticated and growing consumer base in the region."
Describing ASEAN as having “strong potential as a market” closer to home, Mr Lim said Singapore is strengthening its engagements with ASEAN through both regional economic integration as well as bilateral initiatives.
The latter includes an intensification of engagements with long-time partners, such as Malaysia and Indonesia.
Apart from new collaborations like the High Speed Rail (HSR) and Rapid Transit System (RTS) between Singapore and Malaysia, Enterprise Singapore – the new entity that will be born this April from the merger of International Enterprise (IE) Singapore and Spring Singapore – will continue to explore areas of synergies in Indonesia, noted Mr Lim.
Singapore will also continue to extend its reach to other ASEAN countries that local firms have “strong and sustained interest in”, such as Myanmar and Vietnam, he added.
ASEAN is currently the sixth largest economy in the world and enjoyed a steady growth rate of 5 per cent last year. By 2030, ASEAN has the potential to become the fourth largest single market in the world after China, the US and the EU.
Mr Lim said: “Despite the rising nationalistic tendencies and anti-trade sentiments elsewhere in the world, ASEAN has stayed on course in its trajectory of regional economic integration.
“ASEAN is also navigating the rapid pace of technological change and digital disruption,” he added.
The minister also said that ASEAN is making good progress in deepening economic integration under the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC).
Since its realisation in 2015, the AEC has lowered entry barriers, reduced transaction costs, widened choices for consumers and generated job opportunities in the region.
“The prospects are good,” Mr Lim said.