Monday, December 10, 2018

APEC’s New Priority: An Asia-Pacific Digital Vision

 Chien-Fu Lin      
    Over its nearly three-decade lifespan, APEC has served an important role in promoting regional development. But with the APEC Bogor Goals set to expire in 2020, we must think about how to make APEC relevant for the challenges of the decades ahead. It is firmly believed that the priority areas for cooperation in APEC’s post-2020 vision should focus on the fields which can help us maintain and drive economic growth into the future.

    To meet this goal, it is very important that constructing a collective Digital Vision for the Asia-Pacific region will be essential. In economic liberalization, trade facilitation, and business cooperation, APEC has secured significant regional progress. As shown in many evidences, the APEC region has definitely achieved solid and consistent increases in real and per capita GDP, with the latter increasing threefold since the formation of APEC in 1989.

     Digital Economy Growth

Source: Huawei and Oxford Economics (2017), “Digital Spillover: Measuring the True Impact of the Digital Economy” at

    This growth trend has built on itself, expanding the cross-sector digital asset base while amplifying the spillovers that flow from it. Over the past 10 years, the digital economy went from 11 to 15 percent of global GDP. We can certainly expect that share to continue to increase as we enter the era of Artificial Intelligence. But now, with the arrival of the digital age, it is time for APEC to take on new challenges. After all, we all have to deal with the changes brought by digitization, technological advancements and automation.

    In this key area, APEC’s efforts have centered around developing policies and strategies to facilitate digitally driven trade and development. This actually means taking steps to enhance access and connectivity to mobile networks, and to promote infrastructure development and modernization of regulations and standards so that they are compatible with fast-changing trends in data movement and security considerations.

    The digital economy has been at the top of the agendas of many other international bodies, including the OECD, G-20, and World Economic Forum. These organizations are all working toward the common goal of building a digital economic ecosystem. The OECD has held digital ministerial meetings since 2016 to discuss policy options which can meet the new needs of the digital era. The G-20 has convened annual ministerial-level gatherings since 2017 focused on digital inclusiveness, digital government and job skills for the future. And the World Economic Forum, for its part, has proposed a concept for shaping the future of the digital economy and society, which it hopes can serve as a platform for global digital cooperation.

    In the 1970s, the invention of the personal computer inaugurated the Information Technology Era. In this era, all kinds of information were transcribed into data files for storage, access and transmission on increasingly integrated computing systems. Driven by the development of computing and telecommunications technology, the IT era in turn drove breakthroughs in other technological fields such as e-commerce and e-government.

    Now, we are living through a new era of even more spectacular technological change. Digital technologies are becoming faster, more powerful and cheaper, and converging with one another in ever more innovative ways to amplify their potential. Over the last three decades, the virtuous circle of technological breakthroughs has become a central driver of global economic growth and their importance is growing. It has changed the way we work, play, communicate, and think.
In the data technology, or DT era, it is the customer who is the core, and one must serve others. Self-limitation and self-management are dominant in the IT era. However, the major part of technological development is devoted to public service and boosting productivity.

    In line with this process, we in APEC ought to orient our Asia-Pacific Digital Vision around the priorities of integrating IT industry development and promoting the seamless flow of data across technology platforms, users, and workers, with the goal of generating more, and more inclusive, economic growth. It is therefore suggested that this future stage of the digital process be known as “digital growth.”

    This Vision should have three main thrusts: one, making APEC a key global platform for digital economy governance; two, promoting open and inclusive digitalization; and three, strengthening digital investment and capacity-building.

    First, government services and regulatory bodies must be able to quickly adapt to changes and innovations in the market. It is critical that APEC continue to serve as a platform for exchanging experiences and best practices in digital economy regulation and governance. APEC’s role in promoting Cross-Border Privacy Rules and establishing an investment environment based on digital trust can and should be extended to promote further discussions and regional frameworks to make digital trade more predictable, secure, standardized, and integrated.

    Second, we need to reduce barriers to digital trade and make it more transparent, lowering the threshold for small and medium size businesses to enter the digital value chain. In this, APEC must maintain its spirit of inclusiveness in expressing a future digital vision which can help bridge the digital divide and distribute the benefits of digital trade to all sectors of society.

    Third, APEC must also work to promote member economies’ digital resilience and digital literacy, which includes teaching citizens how to navigate a changing economic landscape and educating businesses on how to overcome the difficulties posed by economic transformation.
(Dr. Chien-Fu Lin is the Chairman of CTPECC)

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