ASEAN Digital Economy Framework Agreement: Unlocking Southeast Asia’s Potential

The Institute’s latest report synthesises insights from the 10th ASEAN Economic Dialogue: Unpacking ASEAN’s Digital Economy Framework Agreement.

Southeast Asia’s digital economy continues its impressive digital economy growth. At its current rate, the region’s digital economy is expected to deliver US$1 trillion in value by 2030. This growth however is happening against a backdrop of diverse digital maturity levels and governance approaches across the region. To further accelerate this growth, it is important to have a framework that aligns initiatives and efforts of AMS to achieve a more digitised, digitalised, data-driven and digitally-integrated region. 

This is why the ASEAN Digital Economy Framework Agreement (DEFA) is important. It seeks to further enable the development, adoption and governance of technology and technology-enabled business models with a regional approach. The DEFA seeks to strengthen ASEAN’s competitiveness, advance economic development for all ASEAN Member states, and make progress toward national, regional and global sustainable development goals through digital integration.

This report synthesises insights from the 10th ASEAN Economic Dialogue: Unpacking ASEAN’s Digital Economy Framework Agreement, organised by the ASEAN Secretariat, with support from the Australian Government through the Australia for ASEAN Futures – Economic and Connectivity (Aus4ASEAN Futures (ECON)), and with the Tech for Good Institute (TFGI) as a knowledge partner. The dialogue encompassed insights from international organisations, governments, businesses, civil society organisations, research institutes and academia.

Key Insights

Regionally, there have been numerous efforts to achieve regional integration through specific aspects of digital integration.

Multiple initiatives have been put in place and are examples of ASEAN’s efforts to chart pathways to create an interoperable and integrated digital economy in the region. It also complements existing trade agreements, such as the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Agreement, which seeks to further bolster trade, increase market access and attract investments in Southeast Asia. Hence, while the beginning of negotiations for the DEFA is an important milestone, progress made by ASEAN on various agreements and frameworks serves as a strong foundation for success.

The framework agreement is grounded on several key principles as identified in the Boston Consulting Group & Aus4ASEAN Futures (ECON) 2023 study on DEFA: 

  1. Impact First: Solve the urgent and pressing needs to boost growth, well-being and resilience. 
  2. Inclusive Growth: Drive substantial and sustainable growth for all AMS.
  3. Build on Progress: Leverage existing commitments and advancements made by ASEAN.
  4. Forward-Looking: Respond to and accommodate the evolving digital landscape and broader ASEAN goals.
  5. Tangible Benefits: Deliver real benefits for the economy and its citizens.

The private sector, think tanks, civil society and academia expressed interest to support AMS governments to co-create a quality framework agreement that is fit for purpose and future-proof. Digital economy stakeholders noted the need for DEFA to equitably distribute benefits across all countries, sectors and individuals. In addition, the DEFA should strive to be an agreement that is evolving, forward-looking, agile and flexible enough to accommodate new technologies. A trusted free flow of data is also one of the key considerations to further accelerate the region’s growth. Finally, developing tech talent in the region is seen as an important factor to make the region an attractive investment destination.

The path towards digital integration is not only a job for governments. Expertise and perspectives from the private sector and academia can help support and inform the negotiation process, as well as garnering support for capacity-building and implementation. Creating opportunities for multi-stakeholder consultations and listening sessions for each negotiating round would ensure that provisions in the agreement are fit for purpose, future-proof, responsive, responsible and flexible.

This publication aims to serve as a valuable resource for stakeholders seeking to contribute to ongoing discussions regarding the next phase of Southeast Asia’s digital trajectory. It also advocates for ASEAN to empower these stakeholders to support the process of shaping and realising a landmark digital economy agreement for the region. 

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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.