Propelling ASEAN towards a forward-looking ASEAN Digital Economy Framework Agreement

These remarks were originally delivered at the 10th ASEAN Economic Community Dialogue by His Excellency Satvinder Singh, Deputy Secretary General of the ASEAN Economic Community.

By His Excellency Satvinder Singh, Deputy Secretary General of the ASEAN Economic Community

Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, a very good morning to you all. Welcome to the 10th AEC Dialogue with a focus on unpacking the Digital Economy Framework Agreement (DEFA).

First of all, I would like to thank everyone here today for your strong support for the ASEAN DEFA. From the attendance today both physically and virtually, it is clear that there is huge interest from businesses and other stakeholders on this issue.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Government of Australia for their continuous support of this initiative and Tech for Good Institute for partnering with the ASEAN Secretariat in organising this event.

This is an exciting time for the region. Last September, ASEAN Economic Ministers launched the negotiations on the ASEAN DEFA – the first legally binding region wide digital economy agreement in the world. Tomorrow, the first round of negotiations will kick off, with a view to conclude by 2025.

The DEFA has the potential to bring significant impact that touches the lives of investors, businesses, entrepreneurs, and consumers alike. According to BCG, a robust, advanced, and forward-looking DEFA is expected to add up to USD 2 trillion to the regional digital economy by 2030, reinforcing the region’s dynamism and competitiveness in the global economy.

Google, Temasek, and Bain & Company projected that E-Commerce’s gross merchandise value will grow from USD 112 billion in 2021 to USD 186 billion in 2025. ASEAN’s digital payment market is also expected to grow to USD 2 trillion in transaction value by 2030.

With the rise in the digital economy, let me emphasise that cybersecurity and data protection, along with key elements of the Digital Economy, have become even more important to protect consumers and businesses. Based on current projections, the market volume of cybersecurity in ASEAN is projected to triple from USD 2.1 billion in 2023 to USD 6.7 billion in 2028. Furthermore, the AI market value in ASEAN is projected to triple to USD 27 billion in 2030 from USD 8 billion in 2023.

These figures show that the digital economy is the fastest-growing sector and a key driver of economic growth for ASEAN countries. In this context, DEFA marks a pivotal step for ASEAN in cultivating a robust digital economy. With the DEFA in place, businesses will be able to invest with heightened confidence, while consumers and workers stand to enjoy higher-quality services and increased productivity.

Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, as one of the key beneficiaries of the DEFA, close collaboration with the private sector will be important in order to produce a relevant and forward-looking agreement.

Allow me to share how we envision the role of the private sector during these negotiations:

  • First, we need to note the risk of rapid redundancy. Hence, it is important to ensure that provisions are future-proofed and up to date with the current developments. For instance, a provision on emerging issues may be outdated even before the agreement is signed due to rapid technological developments in the digital space. With this in mind, we need to allow for regular interfaces on key topics with the private sector to keep abreast with current practices, and adapt to specific regional situations and emerging trends.
  • Second, a common pitfall that we see when negotiating an agreement involves misaligned priorities. To manage this, ASEAN needs to maintain a value-focused and inclusive dialogue that engages both the public and private sectors throughout the process in order to build trust and understand the key concerns of stakeholders. This involves creating a forum or platform for stakeholders to share their perspectives and concerns with a view to working towards achieving a responsive DEFA which will benefit businesses in the region.
  • Lastly, factors such as capability gaps, unaddressed technical barriers, and protracted timelines have the potential to hinder the realisation of the full potential of DEFA. In this regard, we need to establish partnerships and leverage the private sector’s strengths and resources to build local capability and technical assistance for the ASEAN DEFA Negotiating Committee as well as relevant agencies in the ASEAN Member States. This is to ensure that we bridge the capability gaps and help countries build their capacity to negotiate and implement the agreement in the future.

Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, the role of the private sector in this negotiation process cannot be overstated. Your active participation and contribution are indispensable in propelling ASEAN towards achieving a robust, advanced, and forward-looking DEFA. Through collaborative partnerships, we can pave the way for a prosperous and resilient ASEAN that not only meets the challenges of today but is well-prepared for the opportunities and uncertainties of tomorrow.

Together, ASEAN can truly flourish as an economic powerhouse in the years ahead. We look forward to your continued support in this endeavour.

Thank you.

Read the 10th ASEAN Economic Community Dialogue press release for more information.


Watch the event recording below:

Download Report

Download Report

Latest Updates

Latest Updates​

Keep pace with the digital pulse of Southeast Asia!

Never miss an update or event!

Mouna Aouri

Programme Fellow

Mouna Aouri is an Institute Fellow at the Tech For Good Institute. As a social entrepreneur, impact investor, and engineer, her experience spans over two decades in the MENA region, South East Asia, and Japan. She is founder of Woomentum, a Singapore-based platform dedicated to supporting women entrepreneurs in APAC through skill development and access to growth capital through strategic collaborations with corporate entities, investors and government partners.

Dr Ming Tan

Founding Executive Director

Dr Ming Tan is founding Executive Director for the Tech for Good Institute, a non-profit founded to catalyse research and collaboration on social, economic and policy trends accelerated by the digital economy in Southeast Asia. She is concurrently a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Governance and Sustainability at the National University of Singapore and Advisor to the Founder of the COMO Group, a Singaporean portfolio of lifestyle companies operating in 15 countries worldwide.  Her research interests lie at the intersection of technology, business and society, including sustainability and innovation.


Ming was previously Managing Director of IPOS International, part of the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore, which supports Singapore’s future growth as a global innovation hub for intellectual property creation, commercialisation and management. Prior to joining the public sector, she was Head of Stewardship of the COMO Group and the founding Executive Director of COMO Foundation, a grantmaker focused on gender equity that has served over 47 million women and girls since 2003.


As a company director, she lends brand and strategic guidance to several companies within the COMO Group. Ming also serves as a Council Member of the Council for Board Diversity, on the boards of COMO Foundation and Singapore Network Information Centre (SGNIC), and on the Digital and Technology Advisory Panel for Esplanade–Theatres on the Bay, Singapore’s national performing arts centre.


In the non-profit, educational and government spheres, Ming is a director of COMO Foundation and Singapore Network Information Centre (SGNIC) and chairs the Asia Advisory board for Swiss hospitality business and management school EHL. She also serves on  the Council for Board Diversity and the Digital and Technology Advisory Panel for Esplanade–Theatres on the Bay, Singapore’s national performing arts centre.


Ming was educated in Singapore, the United States, and England. She obtained her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Stanford University and her doctorate from Oxford.