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SINGAPORE–Singapore’s Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade) Lim Hng Kiang said on Thursday that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) needs to stay attuned to the emerging global trends and sharpen the value proposition to become more future-proof and globally ready.

The minister made the remarks in his opening speech at the 16th ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) Council Meeting, which is one of the related meetings of the 32nd ASEAN summit.

Lim said e-commerce is the new reality for businesses today, and is becoming an increasingly important tool for small and medium enterprises to plug into global supply chains.

“Improving the operating environment for our businesses in the digital economy is therefore crucial,” he said.

Local media Business Times on Thursday quoted some estimates as saying that the ASEAN digital economy had the potential to grow to 200 billion U.S. dollars by 2025, with e-commerce accounting for 88 billion dollars.

Koh Chin Yee, CEO for Longus Research Institute of Singapore, told Xinhua that e-commerce was the most possible area for ASEAN member states to get early achievements. He said that Southeast Asia experienced the fastest Internet user increase across the globe, and the netizen population in the region would reach 480 million by 2020.

He believes the 200 billion dollars of ASEAN’s digital economy in 2025 would be mainly contributed by the e-commerce business, online media business and online tourism.

Koh added that China plays an exemplary role in stimulating the development of e-commerce in Southeast Asia.

According to Lim Hng Kiang, as ASEAN member states help businesses tap on the digital economy to expand their reach to global markets, cross-border movement of goods needs to be facilitated simultaneously. He said that ASEAN needs to pay stronger attention to trade facilitation to ensure that businesses continue to benefit from improved market access.

ASEAN’s efforts in trade facilitation have borne fruits, one of which is the ASEAN Single Window, an online platform to expedite customs clearance via the electronic exchange of information across borders. Lim said the platform was operational among five ASEAN member states at present, and the others would join them soon.

Once fully established, the ASEAN Single Window would reduce transaction costs for businesses and better facilitate the clearance of goods within ASEAN, he added.

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