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Singapore maps out goals for its Asean chairmanship

It will seek tangible results in growing the digital economy and exports, and harmonising e-commerce trade rules

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Mr Lim says the challenges have grown even as Asean has been working at fulfilling its vision for a proposed single market.

Singapore

SINGAPORE will pursue tangible results for Asean in the areas of digital economy and facilitating trade when it takes over chairmanship of the regional bloc next year.

It wants to harmonise regional trade rules that govern e-commerce, and also work on specific measures to facilitate exports.

These plans were cited on Thursday by Trade Minister Lim Hng Kiang at the opening of the Asean Conference 2017, an event organised by the Singapore Business Federation (SBF), UOB, law firm Rajah & Tann, and accounting firm RSM.

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Mr Lim said: "During our chairmanship year, Singapore intends to pursue a set of tangible and meaningful economic deliverables. We hope to tap opportunities from global mega trends, such as the digital economy and trade facilitation."

He stressed that challenges have grown even as Asean has been working at fulfilling its vision for a proposed single market, but that the grouping must continue to strive for long-term, sustainable growth.

In doing so, Asean must continue building stronger economic ties within the bloc and externally, he added.

"The solution to sluggish growth lies not in closing off markets, but keeping markets open for unimpeded trade and investment flows."

The focus on e-commerce and the digital economy is a new one, even as Asean looks to the year 2025, by which time a set of integration measures would have been implemented for the Asean Economic Community (AEC).

With this focus, Asean hopes to streamline regional trade rules governing e-commerce to encourage digital connectivity and lower the operating barriers to entry, said Mr Lim.

He added that, with regard to trade, Singapore will work on realising an Asean-wide Self-Certification regime and the Asean Single Window.

The self-certification scheme will enable authorised exporters to ascertain for themselves whether their goods meet Asean's requirements for preferential treatment.

The Asean Single Window is aimed at speeding up customs clearance through the electronic exchange of information across borders.

Some observers have noted that Singapore's plans as Asean chair - that of expanding the economic space for Asean businesses - strike the same tone as the vision put forth in the recent economic restructuring report by the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE).

Some of the CFE's recommendations for Singapore include tapping opportunities offered by the digital economy and making a continued push for external trade.

SBF chairman Teo Siong Seng said these are real concerns faced by economies.

"What we are pushing for will actually also meet the requirement, the wishes of the other economies. I think it's a good way to further integrate the Asean common market," he told reporters on the sidelines of the event.

Already, Singapore and other Asean markets share strong economic ties, noted Mr Lim.

The region has consistently been Singapore's most important market and largest trading partner. Last year, a quarter of Singapore's world trade, worth S$217.1 billion, was with Asean.

The Republic accounts for 31 per cent of intra-Asean trade. Thus, it is in Singapore's best interest for the AEC to grow, said Mr Lim.

"The AEC remains the cornerstone of Singapore foreign economic policy... A more economically integrated and prosperous Asean will generate greater opportunities for all Asean citizens, including for Singaporeans," he added.

READ MORE: Investment, infrastructure, digital economy to drive Asean prospects: EY

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