Screen grab from the video conference of ASEAN member states

MANILA—Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Ramon M. Lopez calls on Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Member States to accelerate the digital transformation of the region, at the interface of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) Council Ministers and Digital Ministers hosted by Brunei Darussalam via video conference on 18 October 2021.

Secretary Lopez shared that the Philippines and ASEAN have long recognized the importance of the digital economy with early agreements such as the E-ASEAN Framework Agreement (2000) and the ASEAN Single Window Agreement (2005) collectively pointing to the region’s early efforts in advancing digitalization in the region. With the COVID-19 pandemic boosting the growth and reach of the digital economy and its potential as a viable engine for economic growth and recovery, Secretary Lopez emphasized the growing importance of effective collaboration among ASEAN sectoral bodies.

To ensure that the region is able to effectively keep with the speed and pace by which digital technologies are transforming systems, Secretary Lopez welcomed the adoption of the Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB) Roadmap on ASEAN Digital Transformation, and supported the call to advance digital transformation in ASEAN to transform the region into a leading digital economy, and complement its regional economic integration agenda.

The ASEAN Digital Transformation Agenda calls for a coherent and coordinated approach necessary to provide a stable foundation on which the digital economy in ASEAN can grow and prosper, and underscores the necessity of greater synergy among ASEAN Member States on digital economy. According to Secretary Lopez, digital transformation requires synergies and complementarities of policies from all sectors, particularly, from an economic standpoint, and information and communications technology (ICT) perspective.

In line with the ASEAN Digital Transformation Agenda, the establishment of an ASEAN Digital Economy Framework Agreement (DEFA) expected to address the digital gaps of member states in harnessing the economic potential of the on-going digital transformation.

However, Secretary Lopez highlighted that in any effort made to advance ASEAN’s transformation into a leading digital economy, human capital development and inclusivity must always be at the forefront.

“As we look towards the digital era of trade, it is important that we continue to carry ASEAN 2021’s theme of ‘sama-sama’ and ensure that our digital transformation does not leave anyone behind. It is, therefore, necessary that we give equal priority in upskilling and re-skilling our people, and set-up platforms to concretely support micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in adopting and onboarding on digital economy, to ensure that they have the requisite capabilities and support mechanisms to seize the wave of opportunities that the digital economy brings,” Secretary Lopez said.

The Leaders’ Statement on Advancing Digital Transformation is expected to be adopted by ASEAN Leaders at the 38th ASEAN Summit on 26-28 October 2021 which will then give the much needed high level support for the implementation of the BSB Roadmap on ASEAN Digital Transformation.

Date of Release: 18 October 2021