Singapore well-placed to be e-commerce hub, with its tech-readiness, infrastructure: Economist survey

Singapore has the quickest export and import times and the highest percentage of the population making digital payments, as compared to neighbours such as Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
Singapore has the quickest export and import times and the highest percentage of the population making digital payments, as compared to neighbours such as Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Goods imported into Singapore take slightly over 30 hours to clear the border compliance process. This might sound like a long time, but it is almost a third of the time that goods imported into Indonesia might take.

Indeed, Singapore is the quickest when it comes to export and import times, compared to neighbours such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand.

Among these six countries, Singapore also has the highest percentage of the population making digital payments, with 84 per cent having made digital payments in the last year.

It also has nearly half of the population owning credit cards, ahead of the other South-east Asian countries surveyed.

These attributes, among others, make Singapore well positioned to be the regional e-commerce hub, said Dr Simon Baptist, global chief economist at the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).

Dr Baptist also shared the findings compiled by the EIU, the research and analysis division of The Economist Group.

He was speaking at a press conference on the state of e-commerce in South-east Asia held at the Lazada Visitor Centre at AXA tower in Shenton Way on Monday (Nov 5).

He said: "Given the country's sound financial sector and reputation as a safe haven, Singapore is set to become a regional hub for e-commerce."

When it comes to infrastructure, Singapore has the lowest risk scores based on the EIU's Risk Briefing for port facilities, air transport facilities, retail and distribution network and road network.

The infrastructure risk scores measure infrastructure deficiencies that will cause a loss of income or prove lacking in meeting business needs.

Mr S. Iswaran, Minister for Communications and Information and the guest of honour, said during a panel discussion that the important thing is to ensure access and adoption of technology in e-commerce.

"The more important point for technology in e-commerce… is enabling small businesses to access new technologies, because once they can access it, they can unlock potential, scale up and do a lot more," he said.

"From our point of view, the electronic commerce space is a marvellous way to democratise the economy. What it does is that the smallest business in the most remote village… can then access the markets that only the big boys used to be able to do and access partnerships that only companies with a global or regional reach could do. In the region… when we talk about technology, it's about access and adoption rates especially at the level of small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

"If we can get that right, I think that is a quantum change in the economic capacity of the region."

He added that small businesses and SMEs can see the online option as an opportunity rather than a threat, and work with larger firms to make the best of the relationship.

An example of helping small businesses go digital is the SME Go Digital Programme to make going digital simple for SMEs.

Mr Iswaran also raised the example of Kampong Glam as a digitalisation project to bring together shops selling traditional products and solution providers so that the businesses can have digital access.

Digital initiatives under the project include using e-payments and strengthening the online map listings of stores in the area.

Chief executive officer of Lazada Group Lucy Peng said: "By enabling sellers with our technology and logistics capabilities, we want to help sellers flourish, to become sustainable businesses that will contribute to South-east Asia economic growth in the long run."