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Expert says e-commerce vital to Asean


ROBERTO R Romulo, the former foreign secretary of the Philippines, works like a practical businessman as he envisages a plan for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to go for e-commerce all the way.

Indeed, he needs all of his pragmatic sense as chairman of the e-Asean task force entrusted to develop a comprehensive action plan for Asean to compete in the global information economy.

In Singapore last October, the Asean economic ministers agreed that the association needs to catch up with the cyberspace revolution to stay competitive. Then in November, Asean leaders asked Romulo to chair a taskforce that would present the association with a framework for an information infrastructure.

As a former IBM executive, Romulo is especially alert to the need for a wake-up call. He says the recent UN Conference on Trade and Development in Bangkok highlighted the gap between rich and poor countries. Poor countries must move on or they will be left behind.

One of the fastest ways is to leap-frog the technology ladder by going into e-commerce. "If we don't jump into e-commerce, we'll get poorer and the world will pass us by," Romulo says.

Romulo's team consists of two members from the private and public sector from each of the 10 Asean members. It is an ambitious undertaking, but he hopes to complete the e-Asean blueprint in time for the Asean leaders' approval later this year.

While Asean has hundreds of committees and a reputation for being a mere talking shop, Romulo says this task force is different. For the first time members from the private and public sectors are together on the same task force, he said. This gives hope the task force can provide a comprehensive framework for Asean to develop its information infrastructure.

"There is a political and economic imperative for us to join in e-commerce, otherwise we'll be left behind. But the leaders must show the political will to make it happen," Romulo said.

Asean would like to create an environment that nurtures the development of e-commerce and information technology among its 250 million population. To do so, it will have to go beyond the IT agreement within the framework of the World Trade Organisation.

Issues needing work include human resources development, education, laws and regulations, physical infrastructure and taxes.

"They have the IT Agreement in the WTO. And we would like the IT Agreement Two in Asean," Romulo said.




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