As AEC happens in 2015, regional ICT integration is set to take place. AEC (ASEAN Economic Community) 2015 is the “end goal of regional economic integration that would both establish ASEAN as a single market and production base and transform ASEAN into a more dynamic and integrated regional organisation”. To learn about what challenges it poses to SMEs and startups as well as solutions to said obstacles, read our previous take here.
Amidst all changes that are taking shape in ASEAN this year, ICT seems to be in the spotlight. According to Elizabeth Nightingale, Senior International Regulatory Advisor, B&M Consultancy Services, ICT is a key tool in implementing economic integration. In order to prepare SMEs in Cambodia for impending ICT integration, many ICT multinational corporations are holding training programmes.
One of these is the ASEAN Connectivity through Trade and Investment project. This 5-year project by the US-ASEAN Business Alliance for Competitive SMEs aims to increase the U.S’ economic engagement and cooperation with ASEAN countries. The project supports the development of technology solutions to rural broadband access. It also supports SME development by providing access to finances, resources and more. This project also has a focus on women entrepreneurs across developing nations in ASEAN. Its vision is to educate those in countries such as Cambodia how to access information and technology to compete in the integrated Asean Economic Community.
This is especially in line with the objectives of the ASEAN ICT Masterplan 2015 (AIM 2015), which states that “ASEAN can achieve greater competitiveness if it is able to leverage ICT collectively as a region”. By developing next generation ICT infrastructure and skilled human capital, we can gain recognition as a global ICT hub.
How best should we go about achieving regional ICT integration? According to AIM 2015, the key to success lies in the following areas:
Economic transformation: Creating a conducive business environment to attract entrepreneurship, trade and investment in the ICT sector.
People empowerment and engagement: Enhancing the quality of life through affordable ICT.
Innovation: Fostering a creative ICT sector.
Infrastructure and human capital development: To support growth of the ICT sector.
Bridging the digital divide: To promote greater adoption of ICT.
However, a major challenge lies in the diversity of the ten countries that make up ASEAN. Every country is at a hugely different state of development, which means that there could be trouble in areas such as e-commerce. The table below depicts the state of e-commerce laws implemented across ASEAN, and it is evident that Cambodia’s e-commerce law is merely in infancy:
Without proper framework and existing taxation issues, there will be difficulties in trying to regulate these cross-border services.
To tackle these, public support is extremely crucial. Companies should be the ones urging regulators to be proactive in becoming ready for AEC. According to Elizabeth, becoming “ready” includes “removing barriers such as local server requirements for online services, and eradicating licensing issues and other barriers to entry”.
Regional ICT integration will definitely benefit Cambodia, but it is clear that as a country we need to step up in order to stay ahead.