2021 Press Releases

September 24, 2021

NIKKEI-ISEAS Forum: Digitalising Trade in ASEAN is Crucial in the Next Five Years

As the ASEAN economic and free trade bloc agreed to develop a digital trade pact, the NIKKEI Group and ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute (ISEAS) co-organised an online Digital Trade Forum to take a closer look at cross-border digital trade frameworks and supply chains.

“Next five years is a crucial phase to transform ASEAN towards an inclusive, sustainable and integrated digital economy community,” emphasised by Dr. Le Quang Lan, Assistant Director for ICT and Tourism, ASEAN Secretariat, “This process requires strong commitment from ASEAN Member States, effective coordination efforts among sectoral bodies of ASEAN, and greater contribution of relevant stakeholders, including the private sector.” He thanked Nikkei, ISEAS, and Huawei for the initiative to organising the Forum, which was a “good example of how input can be organised.”

Jay Chen, Vice President of Huawei Asia Pacific, delivered a speech on accelerating digital transformation and collaboration on new rules for the digital ecosystem to unlock the potentials for growth in the region. To enable Southeast Asia to seize opportunities during this crucial five years for development, Huawei is committed to provide infrastructure, connectivity, nurture start-ups and cultivate digital skilled talents under the promise of “In Asia Pacific, for Asia Pacific.”

“The pandemic has shifted the focus of anti-globalisation forces from trade liberalisation to capital, labor and data mobility,” according to Dr. Jayant Menon, Visiting Senior Fellow at ISEAS, who also highlighted opportunities from digitisation for win-win outcomes that benefit all countries in the region, whatever their stage of digital transformation. He also touched upon digitalisation of supply chains and paperless trade, which increase business resilience and efficiency. 

Speakers at the forum also mentioned that cutting-edge technologies like AI, cloud computing, the Internet of Things, and 5G are all examples of digital infrastructure. The significance of investing in digital infrastructure through a combination of vertical industrial development and private sector funding was emphasised. New digital trade rules have the potential to unlock potential; for example, digital documents can save up to 20% of a transaction's costs.

The importance of deepening trust amongst stakeholders in South East Asia was echoed by all participants. Dr. Johannes Fritz, CEO of St. Gallen Endowment for Prosperity through Trade, said mutual trust and recognition of data governance is a key element driving digital trade forward. To address better the concerns of the digital divide, cybersecurity and data management (especially between less-developed countries and front-runners), private companies are valuable contributors to policy-making because they help to shape realistic regulations that are business friendly, respond to common interests and bridge social gaps such as internet infrastructure and digital skills. 

Together with other FTAs in the region, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is an important building block for regional trade. Digitalisation has the potential to enhance the benefits derived from these agreements. The recent ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM) Meeting emphasised digital integration initiatives and the seamless and secure flow of goods, services, and data.

The region can further implement and develop regulatory forms such as FTAs to facilitate digital trade and economy, seizing the chance to lead in digital era based on collaborations, mutual-agreed standards and better governance.

The forum was closed up by Dr. Tham Siew Yean, Visiting Senior Fellow at the ISEAS and Ms Sonoko Watanabe, Managing Director & Regional CEO, Nikkei Group Asia, recognising contribution by joint-organisers including ISEAS, Nikkei and Huawei and global eminent speakers for knowledge sharing.