ASEAN’s 2021 Digital Toolkit Series: Removing Roadblocks for Future Growth

Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, digital transformation has been an important megatrend globally, and a key priority for ASEAN. However, the acute disruption to businesses brought about by COVID-19 has rapidly accelerated this transformation, pushed companies over the technology tipping point and completely revolutionised the way business is conducted. Yet, despite the incredible growth of ASEAN’s digital economy, there remain hard and soft connectivity gaps between and within countries in the region. This begs the question: How can ASEAN overcome the infrastructural challenges that impede the region from realising its full digital potential?

To better understand the path forward, on 14 May 2021, the EU-ASEAN Business Council (EU-ABC) hosted a webinar titled: ASEAN’s 2021 Digital Toolkit Series: Removing Roadblocks for Future Growth. The panel comprised of H.E. Satvinder Singh, Deputy Secretary General of the ASEAN Economic Community; H.E. Ambassador Igor Driesmans, EU Ambassador to ASEAN; Claudia Chan, Senior Director of Government Affairs in Southeast Asia at SAP; and John Hsu, Chief Information Officer of Asia Pacific at HSBC. The webinar was moderated by Chris Humphrey, Executive Director at the EU-ASEAN Business Council.

Infrastructural Challenges in ASEAN

H.E. Satvinder Singh kicked off the discussion by stressing the importance of infrastructure in ASEAN’s digital transformation and pointing out the infrastructural gap between and within ASEAN Member States, particularly in areas like network coverage, Internet access, and cybersecurity. Given that digital availability, access, appetite, and capabilities differ across the region, the challenge for ASEAN is to pursue digital infrastructure development across the region whilst aligning development to the different maturity levels of its member states in the digital space.

The panellists agreed that both hard infrastructure such as data storage and processing centres, and soft infrastructure such as standards and regulations, are vital to the operation of the digital economy. They particularly highlighted the need for ASEAN to develop soft infrastructure that encouraged cross-border data flows. H.E. Satvinder Singh explained that while many of the emerging economies in ASEAN are innovating and growing their footprint in the cloud computing world, there remain regulatory barriers that impede cross-border data flows and compel data localisation which both incurs additional costs on businesses and consumers and compromises security. Nevertheless, he noted ASEAN’s commitment to removing these barriers through the RCEP and the ASEAN Agreement on Electronic Commerce. He added that trade tensions between the US and China and the different sets of rules imposed by different major economies – the US, China and the EU, present another challenge to ASEAN. This is because the three economies are the top three trading partners of each ASEAN Member State, hence, ASEAN is inevitably forced to navigate around different sets of rules.

For the full writeup:

Download: 14 May Digital Toolkit Webinar Writeup Final

*Document prepared by Ischelle Koo, Research Intern of EU-ABC

For those whose missed the webinar, view it here

The team at EU-ASEAN Business Council expresses appreciation to the esteemed panel of speakers, without which the webinar would not have been possible.