Access, Education and Collaboration Needed to Propel ASEAN Digital Markets to the Global Stage
Inclusive internet access, education and cross-border collaboration are needed to propel Asia’s digital market into the global economy, participants at the World Economic Forum on ASEAN heard.
Tran Tuan Anh, Minister of Industry and Trade of Viet Nam, explained that while the foundations are in place, with communication infrastructure covering almost 90% of the country, internet users still only make up around 55% of Viet Nam’s population. Despite this gap, the country’s e-commerce sector is growing at a rate of 35% a year and predicted to be worth $10 billion by 2020.
To make this ambitious forecast a reality, Tran Tuan Anh said that a far-reaching domestic approach is essential. “We need to strike a balance in strategy for development, infrastructure and workforce training,” he said.
Once internet penetration is achieved across the region, the next step is for owners of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to learn how to move their business from offline to online.
Bharathi Viswanathan, Chief Information Officer, Asia-Pacific Group, The Coca-Cola Company, Singapore, explained that many of the thousands of “mom-and-pop cafes” all over ASEAN have found their businesses disrupted by the region’s numerous food delivery apps. While they now have access to a much wider base of consumers, they are also facing the challenge of navigating digital platforms and baffling algorithms. “That’s not a muscle many of these small cafe owners have,” Viswanathan stressed.
By teaching business owners how to use the platforms and attract customers with combo deals, the global mage-brand is turning the disruption to both their advantage. “For me it’s about creating shared opportunity which creates a good future for everyone. It’s us and them and the platforms,” said Viswanathan.
Also helping to educate a new generation of digital entrepreneurs is the team behind Shoppy, a Singapore-based online marketplace. The company has set up the Shoppy University, teaching would-be sellers everything from how to take promotional photos of their products to how to utilize inventory management tools.
Santitarn Sathirathai, Group Chief Economist of Shoppy’s umbrella company Sea, said building digital fluency from the ground-up is a win-win situation. “It’s about empowering the sellers, wherever they are in the world.”
But very tangible barriers the global digital trade still exist. Toby Edwards, Chief Executive Officer of Shipa Freight, a digital logistics platform based in the United Arab Emirates, said their in-house survey of 800 SMEs in eight countries revealed that 94% have difficulties when shipping their products abroad.
While his company works to minimize the barriers by making the numerous regulatory documents needed for international trade available online, Edwards said that he believes trust across borders and a simplification of the process is essential for the digital economy to reach its full potential. “Trade follows the path of least resistance,” he told participants. “As a country, the easier you make it to do business the more business you will attract.”
To achieve such streamlining, governments must shed their fear of sharing data and foster collaboration, agreed Gerry A. Mattios, Expert Vice-President of Bain & Company, a firm specializing in global supply chain solutions.
“We believe, based on our research, that the issue of data is similar to the issue of trade. The lower the borders and barriers the better it will be for the economy,” he said. “It’s almost impossible to have cross-border trade without data. It’s like trying to fly without wings. You won’t get very far.”