A second obstacle to the creation of a useful agreement for digital trade has been the lack of commitment to the economic sector. While it`s usually best to talk to businesses when negotiating trade issues, in the fast-moving field of e-commerce and digital, it`s absolutely essential that officials constantly discuss ideas with the business community. Meanwhile, by signing an agreement on e-commerce, ASEAN has begun to make progress in another important area. The agreement was reached in November 2018, but the text was finally published last week. It is therefore necessary for ASEAN to tackle e-commerce and digital trade at the regional level. The agreement reached in November contains some useful provisions to get started. It urges Member States to use paperless exchange systems and the use of information (with the exception of financial services) by electronic means, including digital signatures. It encourages members to be transparent about consumer protection measures and calls for the protection of personal data on the internet. This commitment did not take place. The final agreement is therefore welcomed by many companies yawning, who should be quite disappointed by the results incorporated into the document. Most of the nearly 2500 KKMU that participate in our Asia Pacific MSME Trade Coalition (AMTC) are active in e-commerce and digital commerce. Although not all are domiciled in ASEAN, many participate in or support trade flows in the region. Most of them reported challenges related to inconsistent trade rules and regulations within ASEAN.
The E-Commerce Agreement for ASEAN launches the process. Member State governments must continue to take advantage of opportunities at national level and across the region to effectively achieve potential growth prospects for the future. Businesses must be prepared to respond with specific inclusion recommendations in order to develop a successful e-commerce and digital trade policy for ASEAN. However, most of the agreement remains at the level of cooperation, especially on key elements that are most important for businesses. These include obligations that cover issues related to ICT infrastructure, the legal and regulatory environment, electronic payments and processing, trade facilitation, intellectual property rights in the digital age, competition policy, cybersecurity, etc. However, as with many things in ASEAN, all is not lost. This agreement is the starting point for further discussions on e-commerce and digital commerce. The agreement will be overseen by the Principal Economic Officials (SEOM) and implemented by the ASEAN Coordinating Committee on Electronic Commerce (ACCEC). ACCEC will coordinate with other ASEAN institutions. The Google/Temasek report notes benefits that are already circulating in the region, even if there are no coordinated policies. These include $23 billion in e-commerce sales from 120 million buyers, $30 billion to online travel services, and $8 billion for online transportation and food delivery by 35 million users who make more than 8 million trips a day.
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