06 Dec 2017

The Straits Times

By CHARISSA YONG

Singapore envisions seamless digital transactions across Asean that can help small companies do business more easily and give migrant workers a better deal.

To make this happen, Singapore will champion digital technologies and strengthen cyber security as chairman of Asean next year, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said yesterday.

This will boost Asean's resilience and ability to innovate, he added.

He gave a lecture, titled "Asean: Next 50", to set out Singapore's priorities as the regional grouping's incoming chairman. The goal is to link up the people and economies of Asean in a network of smart cities, while beefing up cyber security.

"You can't have a smarter world and seamless digital transactions if you don't have cyber security. It is the flip side of the coin," Dr Balakrishnan told about 200 business leaders, diplomats and academics.

He also painted a vision of a single digital market across Asean that would have "norms that will guard cyber security and yet enable cross-border transactions at very much lower transaction rates".

Asean's many migrant workers will benefit from such a network.

The minister said: "These hardworking people, in my opinion, pay exorbitant rates to remit money back home. Can we just make sure hard-working people get to remit the fruits of their labour to their families back home as efficiently and in as cost-effective a way as possible?"

Singapore also wants to make it easier for companies to do business in the region.

It will push for the Asean Single Window, a digital platform that will clear cargo and release shipments more speedily.

Also, Singapore will work on an Asean-wide self-certification regime that allows authorised exporters to self-certify that their goods meet Asean's requirements for preferential treatment.

Singapore also wants to strengthen Asean's economic and financial resilience, while deepening its ties with external powers.

"We want to give everyone a bigger stake in our region's prosperity," said Dr Balakrishnan.

"When we meet superpowers, my usual line to them is that it is in your own long-term interests for Asean to succeed because we will be your biggest trading partner."

To this end, Singapore as chairman will step up efforts to achieve a high-quality Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

The trade pact involves all 10 Asean member states as well as six countries with which Asean has free trade agreements: China, India, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and Japan.

Together, the countries in the pact represent almost a third of global gross domestic product.

The longer-term aim is for an Asia-Pacific free trade area, said Dr Balakrishnan.

But Singapore is not fussy about how to get there, whether via the RCEP or the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), now reborn as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the TPP.

"Whether RCEP or TPP, to us they are just multiple roads that lead to a larger destination," said Dr Balakrishnan.

Charissa Yong

Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission