Politicians, regulators and industry heavyweights from across south-east Asia converged on Sydney this week to foster digital trade in the region.
The Digital Trade Standards Workshop is the culmination of six months of consultations and surveys run by non-government non-profit organisation Standards Australia, with the aim of “identifying and understanding opportunities for digital trade between Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Australia”.
The event will bring together representatives from government, industry, academic and national standards bodies from across the nations, Standards Australia senior national sector manager Damian Fisher said.
“We’ve got over 75 key stakeholders from across the region and Australia meeting together for two days of very concentrated discussions and presentations to come up with the game-play for the future,” Mr Fisher told InnovationAus.com.
“This is really exciting and builds on the leadership that our former Prime Minister and the Australian government provided to support this initiative. This is a game-changer,” he said.
“There is a good cross-section of stakeholders attending, and that gives us an opportunity to crystallize the forums we had across the ASEAN member states. It gives us the opportunity to say what we can do in our respective states to help push the digital trade agenda along.”
The workshop is also an opportunity for Australia to lead the way in developing and implementing international standards in the local region, for the benefit of digital trade, Mr Fisher said.
“There’s a really good opportunity now with Australia having a special dialogue status with ASEAN – we’re privileged in that regard. We need to be a part of the international standards setting,” he said.
“ASEAN is currently very much a standards taker rather than a standards maker, and there’s an opportunity for them to get more actively involved – it’s quite critical for them.
“Australia is providing good leadership, and there’s a real opportunity at this workshop for us to showcase Australian smarts and to work with ASEAN member states to help them with technical committees and new items for the future.”
The Digital Trade Standards joint initiative was announced by then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit, with plans for cooperation in the development, adoption and usage of international standards that “promote digital trade and support inclusive economic growth in the region”.
The initiative aims to build consistency to regional regulations in the “context of rapid technological diversity and change”.
This harmonisation of standards is “extremely important” in fostering and growing digital trade in the region, Mr Fisher said.
“All ASEAN member states and Australia look at the standards being used and what we can actually do to have greater alignment,” he said.
“If we’re trying to compare cloud service providers in Malaysia and Australia for example, that’s done through using the international standards dealing with that service, which means you can compare apples and apples, not apples and oranges.”
“It’s also important to foster a regulatory cooperation and coherence. It means you can send information from one market to another and not have draconian laws and regulations inhibiting the movement of that data.”
An issues paper for the workshop was released in September, outlining the key priorities of the meeting.
The paper said that the harmonisation based on market-relevant international standards is “critical”.
“Through increased harmonisation, ASEAN and Australia have the opportunity to better develop an inclusive regional digital ecosystem and gain strategic and competitive benefit from deeper engagement in the global digital economy,” the paper said.
Priorities for the workshop will include data management, privacy and integrity, e-transactions, logistics and trust.
The issues paper also identified a number of barriers to the initiative, including an uneven participation in the development of international digital standards, a lack of updates, adoption and use and inconsistencies in the standards.
“The key issue is that ASEAN is currently underrepresented in international standards developed in supporting digital trade. ASEAN getting involved in digital trade will help their economies integrate more broadly together and be competitively positioned globally,” Mr Fisher said.
Key international standards that could be adopted and harmonised include those focusing on information security techniques, cloud computing and ethical artificial intelligence for example, he said.
“These are areas that are going to help their businesses expand within Australia and in the region. There’s a need for stakeholders and governments across ASEAN to have a much more expanded dialogue with industry on what their priorities are and their needs to feed back into their own economic planning agendas,” Mr Fisher said.
“This gives them the opportunity to shine the spotlight on areas that they identify and want to prioritise going forward.”