WB Report Launched- The Digital Economy in Southeast Asia : Strengthening the Foundations for Future Growth

World Bank Launches new report on the digital economy in Southeast Asia

Bangkok – June 6, 2019 – by Jeff Paine

On the day where Thailand formally nominated their new Prime Minister, the World Bank was busy releasing a new report on the digital economy in Southeast Asia.  Thailand’s newly minted Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha will be the head of the coalition government lead by his military backed party the Palang Pracharath Party.   Ideally the formation of the new government will provide a more stable policy environment unlike the environment that existed prior to the elections as bills on cybersecurity and privacy were rammed through the National Assembly ahead of the elections.  Prime Minister Prayut received 500 votes in the combined House of Representatives and Senate compared to 244 for the leader of the Future Forward Party to become the 29th elected Prime Minister in Thailand.

Thailand, which is the Chair of ASEAN in 2019 and which is pursuing its ambitious Thailand 4.0 program to bolster the digital economy, is the ideal place for this report to be launched.  The digital economy is on fire in ASEAN.   A growing middle-class population, impressive mobile penetration, explosive e-commerce growth and the expansion of ride-hailing apps into super apps that do almost everything have greatly changed the way of life for people in ASEAN.  There are numerous studies on the digital economy that are constantly revising the growth and growth potential of the digital economy, such as the annual report compiled by Google and Temasek Holdings.  As an example, in 2017 this study forecasted that the digital economy in leading ASEAN nations would be valued at US$200 billion by 2025.  In 2018, the same study revised that growth potential upwards to US$240 billion!

Desarack Teso on accelerating ASEAN's digital economy
Desarack Teso on accelerating ASEAN’s digital economy

Today’s event was hosted by the World Bank in Bangkok Thailand. The Guest of Honour was the current Minister of Digital Economy and Society, Dr. Pichet Durongkaveroj.   Other speakers included in the program were from the World Bank (Dr. Birgit Hansl World Bank Country Head for Thailand), Microsoft (Mr. Desarack Teso – long-time digital legal expert based in Thailand) and other specialists from the MDES and the World Bank.  There were approximately 50 people in attendance for the formal launch of the paper.

The Abstract & full Report – The Digital Economy in Southeast Asia -Strengthening the Foundations for Future Growth [ here ]

The report called out several key issues that are reinforcing the booming nature of the digital economy in Asia.

  • Increased number of mobile phones in Asia
  • Ride sharing transforming the transport markets in Asia
  • More consumers going online to purchase things
  • High interest from local governments

The report did highlight however that the full potential of the digital economy is not being realized and the report discusses ways to address some of the shortfalls. Some of the key issues highlighted were:

  1. The need for fast, cheap internet connectivity
  2. Expanded use of digital payments
  3. The need for more digital skills
  4. Improvement in logistics and customs
  5. Digital policy and regulations- national and regional policy frameworks need to be further developed
  6. Digital Identity – a functional platform with potential for wide impact for the digital economy and digital government

The report also focused on an enabling policy and regulatory environment that is needed for the digital economy to continue to grow while highlighting that the full potential is not yet being realized in ASEAN.

This report that highlights the potential of the digital economy in ASEAN is welcomed at a time when many governments are examining policies on content, taxes, dataflows and other important aspects of the digital economy.  Governments around the region should continue to engage with industry players to ensure that their local economies benefit from the digital economy without implementing policy decisions that could kill the goose that lays the golden egg!

 

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