ASEAN moves to spur growth of ICT sector

SINGAPORE (09/29/2003) - To help boost the growth of information and communications technology in the region, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will soon launch three major initiatives that will establish an ICT center, an e-ASEAN advisory council, and a funding program to finance priority projects.

In an interview with members or the Philippine press last week, Virgilio L. Pena, Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) undersecretary for ICT, said ASEAN ministers, at the third ASEAN Telecommunications and IT Ministers Meeting (TELMIN) held in this city state, focused their discussions on four main issues that are expected to reinforce ASEAN's collective competitiveness as a region. These are: · ASEAN information infrastructure development. The main objective is to enhance cyber security with robust prevention, detection and resolution of threats to information and the network. Another key goal is the establishment of a computer emergency response team (CERT) in the region.

-- E-commerce and ICT trade facilitation. In this area, the priority is to develop e-commerce policies, laws and regulations that will facilitate ICT trade and investment. Also, there is a need to establish mutual recognition arrangements for telecommunication equipment testing and certification.

-- E-society and ICT capacity building. The Singapore TELMIN talks centered on enhancing the positive use of the Internet and developing local online content. The need to build ICT skills capabilities in the region was also discussed.

--Universal access promotion and bridging digital divide. The premier objective in this area is to narrow the digital divide by promoting e-government and universal access to telecommunications and ICT.

Pena said, in order for ASEAN to address these four issues, the region's ministers have agreed to embark on three major initiatives.

The first initiative is the creation of an ASEAN ICT center within the next two years. The center will be both a physical and virtual hub which will network centers of excellence around the region. It will initially be established in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Corollary to this plan is the need to put up an ASEAN ICT fund. "There are many projects and initiatives in the region that require some funding, including the four issues that have been discussed during TELMIN," said Pena. He disclosed that ASEAN's four "dialog partner-countries" - China, Korea, Japan and India - have expressed their interest in extending funding assistance provided the projects will be co-financed by ASEAN countries. Pena said ASEAN is initially eyeing $5 million for the proposed fund. However, mechanisms on how the funds will be used or divided among the 10 ASEAN countries have yet to be discussed.

The third major initiative is the establishment of a private-sector led business advisory council that will advise ASEAN on developments in ICT. The initial proposal is to have each country in the region nominate three representatives from their respective private sectors. The representatives should either be the head of an IT association or the chief executive of a vendor company. Pena said the plan is to convene a meeting of the advisory council soon.

The Philippines last week turned over the chairmanship of the TELMIN meeting to Singapore. Last year's meeting was held in Manila, while the first one was in Kuala Lumpur. According to Pena, the meeting officially marked the turnover of the e-ASEAN Framework, which outlines the ICT policy direction of ASEAN, to the TELMIN. The e-ASEAN Framework was originally handled by the ASEAN economic ministers.

TELMIN aims to strengthen ties, promote rapport and establish channels of communication and cooperation among ASEAN countries. It was established to provide direction and policy guidelines in several significant areas of the e-ASEAN initiative.

This year's theme for the third ASEAN TELMIN focused on building a connected and vibrant ASEAN economic community.

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