BANGKOK: The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) must embrace the digital economy, as this will serve as the “driver” for economic growth in the region, according to the regional bloc’s current chief.
At the third Asean Media Forum here on Monday, Asean Secretary General Lim Jock Hoi raised the need for member-states to promote the digital economy, which he said might “spur around $1 billion [in trade and investments] within the next five years….”
“Before the end of this year, all Asean [members] will be connected in the form of [the] Asean ‘single window,’” Lim said, referring to the system that aims to expedite the clearance of imported and exported goods.
“We are looking at also at [a] digital trade agreement as part of our deliverables this year to make sure that digital trade will be going, especially, smoothly in Asean,” he added.
During the forum, which tackled the global challenges facing the region and how to address them, Lim noted that the economic performance of the Asean members was “quite positive.”
“Trade is still positive…and investments [are] still coming for and within Asean [members], he said, adding that “foreign investments are still [showing a] very positive trajectory.”
In terms of trade facilitation, Lim said Asean leaders have been working closely with businessmen to make sure the single window system is “on track.”
For his part, Dr. Hoe Ee Khor, Asean+3 Macro Economic Research Office (AMRO) chief economist, said Asean integration “is multifaceted, and the outlook is bright” and “increasingly gaining traction.”
Rapid urbanization and the rising middle class within the region have not only spurred demand, but also provided the impetus for Asean to strengthen intraregional trade linkages and connectivity.
According to Khor, the ratification of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), and the aim to finish negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) by yearend by a number of Asean members, reinforce the region’s strong commitment to integration and free trade.
With these agreements, there would be greater access to markets, “thereby potential changing the way trade is conducted, including [the] possible reconfiguration of regional supply chains,” he said.
“In addition, it would incentivize and accelerate domestic restructuring agenda, benefit the region in the longer term,” the economist added.
Manu Bhaskaran, chief executive officer of Centennial Asia Advisors, said: “More is needed in an era of growing protectionism and by big power bullying. Asia has to be strong and united to offer protection to all its members.”
“Moreover, in an era when technology seems to favor scale, it should do more to produce an integrated single market, so that Asean economies are not left behind,” Bhaskaran said.