[Read more session reports from the UNCTAD E-Commerce Week 2018]
This session was co-organised by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and gave ASEAN member states the possibility to share their views and experiences with e-commerce. ASEAN has recognised the importance of e-commerce as a powerful enabler for businesses and small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in particular. In collaboration with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), ASEAN hosted a workshop on e-commerce in November 2017 in line with the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) Blueprint 2025, which calls on ASEAN states to intensify co-operation to establish an ASEAN agreement on e-commerce to facilitate cross-border e-commerce transactions.
Ms Tan Yee Woan (Permanent Representative of Singapore to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)) opened the session and moderated the discussions.
The first panellist, Ms Cecile Barayre (Economic Affairs Officer, UNCTAD) began her presentation by mentioning that there is currently not enough data about e-commerce in the region, but that one of UNCTAD’s observations pertains to the large variances in access to the Internet and online services. In that regard, she urged ASEAN states to collect more data in order to better be able to design enabling e-commerce regulations. She further invited participants to take a look at the UNCTAD B2C E-Commerce Index 2017, which identifies certain areas for improvement. The absence of e-commerce regulations and data protection laws in a large number of states is still an element that slows down the wider adoption of e-commerce. Barayre also explained that infrastructures still needed to be improved and that markets should be opened up in order to reduce overall prices.
Mr Carlos Grau Tanner (Director-General, Global Express Alliance) pointed out that most rules regarding shipping were conceived for large companies and are often burdensome for SMEs. To alleviate these issues, Tanner introduced the idea that ASEAN states could adopt a Low Value Shipment Programme.
This programme would make it possible for SMEs to ship their products more easily by raising the threshold at which businesses have to provide proof of origin of the products. Information required for these kinds of shipments would be minimal but could be shared with the border authorities in order for them to run risk management analyses. Additionally, Tanner argued in favour of moving away from transaction-based taxation systems towards account-based taxation, given that it would reduce costs for SMEs and support their growth.
Ms Chantira Jimreivat Vivatrat (Director-General, International Trade Promotion, Ministry of Commerce of Thailand) shared Thailand’s experiences and projects for the enhancement of e-commerce, stating that the country’s national digital agenda focuses on value-based economies through technology and creativity.
In order to support local e-commerce businesses, the government has set up a national platform called thaitrade.com, which provides help, marketing support and partnerships to SMEs.
Thailand sees its role in driving ASEAN’s e-commerce development through enabling its own local e-commerce economy and strengthening the infrastructure to conduct business online.
Mr Khammanhkieng Khottavong (Counsellor, Permanent Mission of Lao People's Democratic Republic) retraced the adoption of laws supporting digital commerce and the digital space more generally. He reiterated Laos’ commitment to the e-ASEAN framework in facilitating cross-border e-commerce transactions, which is being developed in the context of the AEC Blueprint 2025. Besides challenges related to low access to Internet and low export readiness of Laos’ entrepreneurs, Khottavong mentioned the lacking awareness about free trade agreements as an element that needs to be better leveraged for the growth of e-commerce.
Mr U Minn Minn (Deputy Director-General, Department of Trade of the Ministry of Commerce, Myanmar) explained that the country had recently started liberalising the telecommunications market and that they were currently observing the rapid penetration of mobile connectivity. Despite having entered the field of e-commerce late, Myanmar is experiencing rapid growth and is situated among the fastest growing economies in the ASEAN region.
Minn also mentioned that the push to adopt ASEAN’s e-commerce agreement might come too soon for the least developed countries of the region, given that they first need to establish stringent national frameworks.
By Cedric Amon