Be aware of scammers impersonating as IMDA officers and report any suspicious calls to the police. Please note that IMDA officers will never call you nor request for your personal information. For scam-related advice, please call the Anti-Scam helpline at 1800-722-6688 or go to

Yeo Cheow Tong, Minister for Communications & Information Technology - Speech e-ASEAN Business Leaders' Forum, Hilton Hotel

Yeo Cheow Tong, Minister for Communications & Information Technology - Speech
e-ASEAN Business Leaders' Forum, Hilton Hotel

Singapore, 6 April 2001

Mr Roberto Romulo, Chairman of the eASEAN Task Force,

1 I am very happy to be with you here this morning at this first eASEAN Business Leaders' Forum. First, let me extend a very warm welcome to all the ASEAN delegations and the representatives from industry.

Economic Challenges Facing ASEAN

2 ASEAN is facing stiff global competition for markets and investments. Our share of the critical US market declined from more than 8% between 1995 and 1998 to 7.2% in 2000. This is despite a healthy annual growth of 3-6% in total exports from ASEAN to the US. Source : US Census Bureau. This is because other countries have been making steady inroads into the US market. In 2000, China increased its share of exports to the US to 8.5%, up from 6.1% in 1995, overtaking ASEAN. Mexico expanded its market share from 8.3% in 1995 to 11% in 2000. Source : US Census Bureau

3 Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) flows into ASEAN grew steadily by more than 10% annually between 1995 and 1997. However, foreign investments fell drastically by more than 20% annually between 1998 and 2000. Where did all the investment dollars go, you may wonder? The bulk of them were actually channelled to North East Asia. Mainland China now accounts for about one-third of emerging markets' total stock of FDI. Nearly 80% of all FDI coming to ASEAN and East Asia, ex-Japan, goes to China. Source : The Economist

4 China's imminent entry into WTO will also pose a formidable economic challenge to ASEAN. We will likely see the Chinese compete not only in labour-intensive industries but also in the technology manufacturing sectors, such as semiconductors, electronics, IT hardware and machinery. Elsewhere in Asia, India is quickly emerging as a powerhouse of IT software development with its abundant supply of highly-skilled IT manpower. I visited Chennai and Bangalore a month ago and I can tell you, I was greatly impressed by the dynamism of the Indian IT companies.

Collective Response from ASEAN

5 Given these economic challenges, there is a strong need for greater economic integration in ASEAN so that ASEAN as a region can compete with the other economies and trade areas of the world. In this aspect, the ASEAN leaders have agreed to accelerate the implementation of the commitments made in the ASEAN Free Trade Area and the ASEAN Investment Area.

6 To remain relevant in the global digital economy, ASEAN needs to develop new growth areas such as information and communications technology (ICT). We must also be plugged technologically into the economies of Japan, Korea, China and India. One way to achieve this is through the eASEAN initiative. The eASEAN initiative, first proposed by my Prime Minister Mr Goh Chok Tong in 1998, reached an important milestone in November last year with the signing of the eASEAN Framework Agreement.

Vision for eASEAN

7 The vision for eASEAN is threefold:

  • To create a common marketplace of half a billion people for ICT products and services;

  • To enhance the economic competitiveness of ASEAN through harnessing ICT in the private and government sectors;

  • To enhance the living standards of ASEAN nationals through ICT, by narrowing the digital divide.

8 With the strong eASEAN brandname, ASEAN will be positioned as an attractive location for ICT investments as well as for trade in ICT products and services.

9 The main areas of focus of the eASEAN initiative are:

  • Building an ASEAN Information Infrastructure by upgrading the national information infrastructures of ASEAN countries and enhancing the connectivity among them;

  • Developing e-commerce to boost the competitiveness of ASEAN businesses and industries;

  • Liberalising trade in ICT products and services, and allowing for a freer movement of ICT investments and ICT talents within ASEAN;

  • Implementing e-government services to improve the efficiency of government as well as the delivery of public services to the people;

  • Narrowing the digital divide and nurturing an e-society through human resource development and the deployment of easy-to-use ICT services.

Implementation of eASEAN

10 The vision for eASEAN is a bold one. No other region in the world has come this far in spelling out the details of such a vision and committing to turning it into reality. While getting to this point has not been easy, the task ahead will be even tougher, as different countries in ASEAN are at different stages of ICT development.

11 For eASEAN to succeed, there must be close partnership between the government and private sectors. The government plays the critical role of catalyst and facilitator. We need to focus on bringing the key players together and harmonising policies and legislation to allow for cross-border transactions. The private sector's role will be to take the lead in initiating and implementing ICT projects to help achieve the objectives of eASEAN. Being closer to the markets and having a better understanding of the emerging technologies, the private sector is in a better position to identify projects that are commercially viable and implementable. That is why the eASEAN Task Force and eASEAN Working Group have organised this forum to bring together government officials and business leaders like yourselves. I urge the private sector to join forces with the public sector to turn the eASEAN vision into reality. You can contribute in many ways, and I will just mention four possible ways:

  • Offering ideas and solutions on how best to implement eASEAN;

  • Initiating and participating in eASEAN projects;

  • Making strategic investments to take advantage of enhanced business opportunities created by eASEAN;

  • Creating and growing new markets for ICT and e-commerce.

12. At this point, let me share with you some of the early successes and initiatives in the implementation of eASEAN:

  • Close to 20 projects, proposed by the private sector and quasi-government organisations, have been endorsed as eASEAN projects.

  • In the area of e-commerce, a common legal framework has been developed to facilitate the legal recognition of digital certificates issued by the certification authorities (CAs) of Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines and Brunei. Concurrently, a CA Forum has been initiated to work out common technical standards to enable the cross-recognition and cross-certification of digital certificates.
  • A technical architecture is being put together to guide the development and implementation of interoperable ICT applications and services.
  • A forum for Internet service providers in ASEAN has been organised to work towards the setting up of regional Internet exchanges and gateways to make Internet traffic flow within ASEAN more efficient and cost-effective.
  • A series of "Train the Trainers" programmes to upgrade the ICT skills of the less developed ASEAN countries, such as Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam, are being developed.

Parting Words

13. These are exciting infocomm days for ASEAN. eASEAN offers new opportunities for ASEAN to make its mark in the world, to be able to compete for markets and investments with the major economies of the world, and to upgrade the quality of life of its people. To make this happen, the public and private sectors of ASEAN must work closely together towards a common goal. I hope today's forum will be the first important step towards building this close private-public sector partnership, and that the participants here today will, in turn, draw in other players from your home countries and from the principals you represent. I also hope to see strategic alliances and memoranda of understanding being established among the players in the near future, all with the aim of implementing joint projects to realise the eASEAN vision.

14. With that, let me end by wishing you a fruitful meeting and hope that you will come up with plenty of new ideas and initiatives for moving eASEAN forward.