Asia Seeks E-Commerce Parity

Leaders of 10 Southeast Asian countries gathered in Singapore on Friday to sign the e-ASEAN accord, urging member nations to make e-commerce safe and effective for consumers, to establish high-speed Internet connections, and to approve digital signature legislation.

The e-ASEAN accord also seeks to eliminate duties on information technology goods and services by 2010.

Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members range from poor agrarian countries such as Cambodia and Laos to tech-savvy Singapore, but all are united in the belief that technology is the path to economic gain.

“ASEAN countries must similarly embrace technology, its development and use if it is to remain competitive — not even to catch up with the industrialized world but simply to stay in the running. This is a call not for ASEAN necessarily to undertake basic, pioneering scientific research but to adapt, develop and utilize science and technology to strengthen the region’s economies and improve the lives of its people,” saidRodolfo C. Severino, ASEAN Secretary General, in a report to the 33rd ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in July.

E-Commerce for All

Recognizing that e-commerce will be a critical factor in economic development in the coming years, ASEAN established the e-ASEAN task force last year to focus on boosting e-commerce in the region.

Part of the task force’s work is to close the digital divide that separates richer ASEAN members like Singapore from poorer ones, such as Malaysia. The task force also identified areas that need further attention, such as cyber laws, secure messaging infrastructure, payment gateways and online services and products for regional development.

Second Task Force

Another ASEAN group working toward achieving e-commerce equity is the Coordinating Committee on Electronic Commerce (CCEC), which drew up the non-binding ASEAN Guiding Principles on Electronic Commerce. These principles call on member nations to work together to establish laws and policies that facilitate cross-border e-commerce, and to share the technological knowledge necessary to build e-commerce infrastructure.

“ASEAN is taking economic integration into the information age, while using information and communications technology to strengthen regional economic integration,” said Severino, in a speech last month at the Thailand Development Research Institute.

Legalizing Digital Signatures

The e-ASEAN pact also calls for member nations to pass digital signature laws that will make it easier for companies and individuals from different parts of the world to do business together. Legalizing digital signatures — copies of a person’s signature stored digitally on computer — means that a factory in Thailand could sign a contract with a U.S. firm by attaching a digital signature to an e-mail.

Some ASEAN nations, including the Philippines, Thailand and Singapore, have already signed various digital signature acts.

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