Mr Goh Chok Tong, Prime Minister, Singapore - Keynote Address Official Opening of The Third Asean Telecommunications and IT Ministers Meeting (TELMIN), Shangri-La Hotel ...

Mr Goh Chok Tong, Prime Minister, Singapore - Keynote Address
Official Opening of The Third Asean Telecommunications and IT Ministers Meeting (TELMIN), Shangri-La Hotel

Singapore, 18 September 2003

A Time of Challenge

ASEAN has seen some rough weather in the last few years. We suffered a serious financial crisis in 1997, a wave of terrorism after September 11, and SARS earlier this year.

The weak global market has also dampened our economic growth. And the emergence of China and India means stronger competition.

As a result, the economic outlook of ASEAN is less rosy than in the 80s and early 90s. Our share of foreign direct investments has also fallen.

A Renewed Response

ASEAN needs to reinvigorate itself, in order to remain a major player in the global economy. We should build on the fundamentals that gave us our past success - open markets, a safe and secure region, poverty alleviation, and literacy and productivity for our people. But we must also offer new attractions to investors.

This calls for more than just a face-lift. We need a change in mindset.

For example, we have to make it easier and more competitive for companies to do business in the ASEAN markets. This requires us to lower tariffs within ASEAN. It requires us to remove non-tariff barriers such as unnecessary regulations and bureaucratic processes.

We should also give a bigger push to liberalise our services sectors such as telecommunications, financial and professional services. We should lift barriers to intra-ASEAN investments.

Indeed, we must redouble our efforts to fully integrate with one another. This is necessary to help us meet the formidable challenge from other regions and economies. If we work as a seamless market and production base, we will be able to leverage on each other's strengths, and become more attractive to investors.

On the other hand, individually, we may make some headway in the short-term. But in the longer-term, we will lose out to larger competitors. To enjoy sustained development in this fiercely competitive environment, ASEAN countries must work as one.

Integration is not a new concept. ASEAN countries are guided by "ASEAN Vision 2020", which envisages a stable, prosperous and globally competitive region where goods, services, investments and capital flow freely.

In support of ASEAN Vision 2020, Singapore had also proposed an ASEAN Economic Community, or AEC. The AEC puts in place a more definite route to achieving economic integration within ASEAN, and also with the rest of Asia.

Accelerate e-ASEAN

One of the key pillars of the AEC is the information and communications technology (ICT) sector. ICT is a powerful catalyst. It opens up whole new worlds for us, making faraway markets accessible. It supports the growth of all industries, including manufacturing and financial services. It is also an important economic sector in itself.

In this regard, several ASEAN ICT markets have performed above expectations in the last decade. Vietnam's ICT market grew by 27 percent, way above the global average of 7 percent. The Philippines and Singapore markets grew by 12 percent each. There is tremendous potential in this sector.

As a region too, we have made good progress in developing the ICT sector. The launch of e-ASEAN four years ago was a defining moment. ASEAN Leaders agreed to create the physical, legal and commercial infrastructure needed to grow the ICT sector and electronic commerce in our region.

We have made good progress in e-ASEAN. For instance, one of its aims was to create a vibrant and competitive common market for ICT goods, services and investments. This will lower business costs, provide supply chain synergies for businesses, and enhance consumer choice. In this effort, ASEAN countries have committed to eliminating tariffs on ICT products under the WTO Information Technology Agreement by 2005 for ASEAN-6, and by 2010 for the four newer members.

In the ICT services sectors, I understand that the pace of liberalisation has been slower. But I am pleased to hear that member countries are prepared to work on the basis of allowing those who are more ready, to commit to an earlier liberalisation timeframe. Other members can follow later.

We must press ahead with e-ASEAN. In fact, I would argue for efforts to be accelerated. Because of the changing global environment and rapid advancements in ICT technology, e-ASEAN is even more relevant today.

A Connected ASEAN

To accelerate the creation of a connected ASEAN, we need action in six areas.

First, we should continue to focus on providing our people access to a pervasive and reliable information and communications infrastructure. The number of telephone lines in many ASEAN countries is still way below the average for the Asia Pacific region. So too, is the number of Internet users. Improving access to ICT will lead to better sharing of information, the growth of e-commerce, stronger links between people and markets, and consequently, closer economic integration within ASEAN.

Second, I believe that IT literacy must receive the highest priority. ASEAN should develop our people's knowledge and comfort in using ICT services. If the people are not ICT-savvy, they risk being left out of the knowledge economy.

Third, ASEAN should continue to work towards harmonised regulations. This is important, if we want our telecom operators to participate fully in a liberalised ASEAN market. The rules of engagement must also be clear, transparent and predictable. Similarly, clear and predictable rules for e-commerce, evolved through the harmonisation of laws and policies based on international norms, will promote trust and confidence among consumers and businesses.

Fourth, ASEAN should build linkages to countries outside our region. In the ICT arena, it is important to engage Asian powerhouses such as India, Japan, Korea and China. Developments in their markets affect us.

Fifth, we should embrace technology to improve the productivity, efficiency and competitiveness of our economy, and the quality of our people's lives. For instance, the Internet, broadband services, wireless networking, PDAs and mobile phones can enhance the way our people work, live and play. Businesses too, can cut time and money and improve relations with customers.

Last, and perhaps most importantly, we need to protect our information and communications networks from intentional harm and degradation.

Hackers and computer viruses can flood network connections, steal or tamper with information, and disrupt essential services. Just last month, the world was hit by three virus attacks. The attacks created an estimated US$800 million of damage. They disrupted financial networks, health and emergency services, web-based merchants, government transactions, online flight ticketing and electronic business processes.

The New York Times recently ran a commentary pointing out that taken together, the recent blackout in the US and the computer virus attacks have underscored a far-reaching challenge in managing modern technological societies. The commentary said that we have to reap the benefits of networks, whether rail networks, airline networks, telephone networks, power networks or computer networks, while minimising their vulnerabilities.

I could not agree more. The answer to network threats is not to close our markets or de-link ourselves from one another. Instead, ASEAN should develop a common and sustained approach to the security of our telecommunications and computer networks, so that we can enjoy the fruits of a fully connected region. Indeed, the gains of greater integration and advancing networked economies far outweigh possible losses from network attacks.


Let me conclude.

Over the next one and a half days, you will be charting next year's directions for ASEAN's ICT industries. This is an important task. If you set bold directions, you will put our ICT industries in a favourable position to benefit from the global ICT recovery, after the dot-com crash and telecom crisis. It will give impetus for economic recovery and job creation in our countries.

Your deliberations will not only bring us closer together as economies, but also as neighbours and friends. I am therefore happy to learn that Lee Boon Yang has arranged a social programme for you and your officials. I am told you have a karaoke session this evening and that tomorrow evening, you will be watching a musical, called Forbidden City, at the Esplanade. I cannot vouch for the quality of the singing at your karaoke, but I am sure you will enjoy the musical. I have seen it. It is an entertaining and absorbing local production.

I wish you a fruitful meeting and an enjoyable stay in Singapore, and now I have the pleasure of announcing the open of your meeting.

Last updated on: 13 Mar 2023