Economic priorities for S'pore as Asean chair

The digital economy and trade facilitation are two of five key economic areas that Singapore will focus on during its chairmanship of Asean this year.

The others are services integration and ease of investment; energy security; and strengthening ties between Asean and its external partners.

Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade) Lim Hng Kiang laid out Singapore's priorities at the Singapore Business Federation's (SBF) Asean Networking Night last night. Even as anti-trade sentiments are on the rise in other parts of the world, Asean members must stay the course in pursuing deeper economic integration, he said.

"It is against this backdrop that Singapore's Asean 2018 chairmanship focuses on strengthening Asean to become a resilient and innovative region."

First, in innovation and the digital economy, Singapore will work on developing e-commerce trade rules, lowering barriers to entry for firms, and developing digital connectivity in the region.

Second, to facilitate trade, Singapore will continue its efforts in implementing regional schemes such as the Asean Single Window for Customs facilitation and clearance, and an Asean-wide self-certification regime.

Third, Singapore will push forward longstanding efforts to deepen service integration and reduce obstacles to investment.

One such effort is the Asean Trade in Services Agreement, which Singapore will work towards concluding, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon said at the SBF's Asean Outlook Conference 2018 earlier in the day.

At the dinner, Mr Lim said Singapore would work with other Asean members to promote South-east Asia as a cruise destination.

Fourth, in energy security, Singapore will work to cultivate a conducive regulatory environment and promote cooperation. It will also aim to build up the region's capabilities in energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Finally, the Republic will pursue deeper ties between Asean and its external partners.

Mr Lim called on Asean and East Asian business communities to continue sharing their recommendations. "With your advice, we hope to realise deliverables during our chairmanship that can bring about real and tangible benefits to our businesses and people."

Last night's dinner marked a corresponding handover between private-sector representatives as the Asean Business Advisory Council chairmanship was also passed to Singapore. New chairman Robert Yap said the council will work with Asean governments and business bodies to drive regional digital development.

Earlier at the conference, experts and regional business leaders had shared their views on the challenges and opportunities facing the region, particularly in the area of e-commerce.

Panellist Nick Nash, group president of Internet firm Sea Limited, said one factor hampering regional e-commerce is the difficulty of payment. He suggested the creation of an Asean e-wallet framework to encourage e-commerce across borders.

The conference was one of several Asean-related activities being held by the SBF this year to encourage Singapore firms to venture into the region. Upcoming events include seminars on digitisation and young entrepreneurs, and the Asean Business and Investment Summit in November.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2018, with the headline 'Economic priorities for S'pore as Asean chair'. Print Edition | Subscribe