SINGAPORE will focus on e-commerce and the digital economy as well as improve trade facilitation in the region when it takes over the Asean chairmanship in 2018. Among other things, the Republic is looking to achieve a single window for Customs clearance.
Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade) Lim Hng Kiang said this at the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) Singapore launch of 2018 Asean Business Outlook Survey on Tuesday.
In his speech, Mr Lim said: "Singapore will work with the Asean member states to streamline regional trade rules governing e-commerce to promote greater digital connectivity, and help companies more easily access new markets and overseas customers. In this regard, the US-Asean Connect initiative will both complement and reinforce our integration efforts in the digital age." US-Asean Connect is a strategic framework for all US economic engagement in Asean.
Responding to a question, Mr Lim said that Asean recognises the need to respond to the digital economy as "we are now behind the curve, and we need to get ourselves back on track".
He said: "The potential is huge. It is a very important way to level up the playing field for the micro, small and medium enterprises because the digital economy gives more advantages to the small companies whereas the big companies are able to operate whatever the conditions."
Singapore will also work closely with the rest of Asean to realise an Asean-wide self-certification regime and the Asean Single Window to facilitate the smooth movement of goods within Asean. "This will help companies enjoy lower compliance and time-to-market costs," said Mr Lim.
During the question and answer session, Mr Lim said that the Asean Single Window is to ensure a single window for Customs facilitation and clearance, and to ensure that Customs regime in Asean countries are inter-operable. He said: "We have already reached the milestone where individual Asean countries are able to establish a single Customs window for themselves, and they have been working towards inter-operability."
However, Mr Lim noted that the challenge differs from sector to sector, as some sectors are able to progress faster, while some sectors are somewhat more complex.
"For example, just recently, we have mutual recognition agreement for food hygiene. This allows us to facilitate business to have access to the Asean markets without having a very complex array of food hygiene standards across Asean."
There is also the tension between security, privacy, protection of data versus facilitating cross-border data flows and efficiency. "So we need to find a solution to manage this tension. And we are making some progress."