Members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), already well advanced in using e-commerce, should boost the development payoff of these technologies by taking steps to build consumer trust, address payment fraud, and overcome difficulties in assessing the quality of products offered online, said a new UNCTAD report launched on Thursday.
The report, titled Review of E-commerce Legislation Harmonization in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, also urges that attention be paid to harmonization concerns related to online privacy, identity theft, and the currently limited access to complaint systems.
The review notes that the policy challenges for many ASEAN countries include how to increase Internet penetration to levels that will make e-commerce a more viable option for enterprises.
The report said ASEAN was the first region in the developing world to adopt a harmonized legal framework for e-commerce. Ten years later, it is the most advanced developing region regarding the implementation of harmonized e-commerce laws. However, in a region as diverse as Southeast Asia, the approach taken by countries has been to refer to international instruments without having binding e-commerce laws for the whole region.
The harmonization process focuses on achieving predictability in the use of e-commerce.
Country-to-country disparities in the uptake of information and communication technology (ICT) remain substantial, the study notes, especially in terms of Internet use and fixed broadband deployment. Mobile penetration is generally high, except in Myanmar. The report says that mobile devices offer considerable potential for commerce, as well as for mobile financial services which have already been adopted widely in some ASEAN countries, said the UNCTAD.
The review's proposals are intended to accelerate the process of regional integration and harmonization as outlined in the ASEAN ICT Masterplan 2015.
Electronic commerce is seen as a key component for ASEAN to realize its vision of a regionally integrated economy. Having a single e-commerce market will enable ASEAN member States to take advantage of the rapid economic development within the region and in other neighbouring countries. The harmonization of e-commerce laws is essential for driving further regional integration via e-commerce, trade facilitation, tourism, outsourcing, e-government, cloud computing, mobile commerce, and social networking, the report says.
Among UNCTAD's recommendations are an ASEAN roadmap for e-commerce should be commissioned, and a multi-year project set up to tie together regional, bilateral and national activities in one coordinated package. This approach would help individual member States as well as the ASEAN secretariat to monitor progress against the 2015 targets for e-commerce.
It also highlights steps that should be taken to build the capacities of policymakers and users in relevant areas of e-commerce, especially to address cybersecurity concerns and to build trust among potential consumers.
A common training and resource facility on e-commerce should be established, and 24/7 national contact points should be set up to enforce laws prohibiting cross-border cybercrime, the handling of cross-border consumer complaints should be harmonized - a step that will require an agreement between national consumer protection regulators, complemented by appropriate investigation and referral tools are part of the recommendatios.
they also urged ASEAN members to consider becoming participants in the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (to date, only the Philippines and Viet Nam are members), develop a mutual recognition agreement, which would detail minimum acceptable standards for electronic signatures and related "trust" services to facilitate cross-border e-commerce.
With regard to data protection/privacy laws, there has also been much progress, although there is scope for more harmonization, the report contends. Three countries (Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore) have passed privacy legislation, and Indonesia and Viet Nam have partial privacy legislation in place, while Brunei Darussalam and Thailand are discussing draft legislation.
Progress in the area of consumer protection for online transactions in the region is mixed. Six out of 10 countries already have legislation in place. Two have partial laws (Brunei Darussalam and Indonesia). The Lao People's Democratic Republic has draft laws, while Cambodia has yet to commence work in this area.