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Building a Sustainable Digital Economy: ERIA's E-DISC Initiatives for ASEAN-Japan Collaboration

16 December 2023

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Tokyo, 16 December 2023: The Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA), in collaboration with Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI); the AEM-METI Economic and Industrial Cooperation Committee (AMEICC); and related organisations hosted ‘ERIA Digital Innovation and Sustainable Economy Centre (E-DISC): Visible Initiatives for ASEAN and Japan’ as part of the ASEAN-Japan Commemorative Summit for the 50th year of ASEAN-Japan Friendship and Cooperation. It featured two key focus sessions on ERIA’s commitment toward a sustainable and digitally advanced future in Southeast Asia through E-DISC: dissemination of digitalisation in ASEAN and Japan, and the ASEAN-Japan Circular Economy Initiative.

‘Digitalisation is progressing rapidly in ASEAN, and business styles and people's lifestyles are rapidly changing. New policies are being launched one after another to further accelerate this trend of digitalisation. Therefore, ERIA established Digital Innovation and Sustainable Economy Centre, which we call ‘E-DISC’, in August this year to support these ASEAN initiatives,’ said ERIA Chief Operating Officer Koji Hachiyama in his opening remarks.

Indonesia's Minister of Trade Dr Zulkifli Hasan; Japan's Deputy Director-General for Trade Policy, Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry Tetsushi Yoshikawa; Deputy Secretary-General for ASEAN Economic Community Satvinder Singh, and COO Koji Hachiyama opened the event sharing the same view and goals – highlighting the urgency of decarbonising the industrial sector by focusing on cross-border trade and creating a more efficient supply chain through digitalisation. There is a crucial need to consider resource concerning promoting carbon neutrality while increasing economic growth.

The ASEAN and Japan markets, encompassing approximately 800 million people, offer substantial economic opportunities. Digital trade connectivity, leveraging digital platforms, networks, and tools, is pivotal for enhancing the efficiency, speed, and security of cross-border transactions between ASEAN and Japan. Ryosuke Fujioka, Chief Representative of the AMEICC Secretariat, briefly explained a roadmap for trade digitalisation in ASEAN which has been developed with relevant policy recommendations.

Dr Aladdin D Rillo, ERIA Senior Economic Advisor, emphasised the increasing use of digital platforms for economic activities. Digital payment and e-commerce have become more popular since the COVID-19 pandemic. However, digitalisation across the ASEAN region continues to face gaps such as accessibility, affordability, infrastructure, policy, and regulatory frameworks. It is against this backdrop that E-DISC was established.

‘As an international think tank, ERIA believes that an integral part of digital transformation is the role of knowledge, particularly how that knowledge is being used by people to understand the complexities of digital technologies.  In my view, innovation necessitates the seamless sharing of ideas, expertise, and critical capabilities in order to stay ahead of change and secure its opportunities,’ said Dr Rillo.   

Dato Lim Jock Hoi, former Secretary-General of ASEAN, also spoke of how ERIA can continue to be a relevant partner for ASEAN through E-DISC.

‘There are many challenges, but here I will highlight three main ones, where I believe E-DISC is well-placed to play an important role. These challenges are, first, tackling barriers to digital trade towards an integrated digital economy; second, crafting the right strategies for a future-ready workforce; and third, building the right environment for innovative entrepreneurship to flourish,’ said Dato Lim.

E-DISC aims to provide knowledge-building and capacity-building support, foster public-private dialogue, and offer regional policy recommendations. To support ASEAN startups, together with ERIA as a knowledge provider, E-DISC will provide regional support, country-specific support, and networks and resources.

While the digitalisation of individual trade procedures is crucial, it is equally essential to establish a data ecosystem where companies seamlessly share data along the entire supply chain to address global challenges related to supply chains, including carbon neutrality, circular economy principles, geopolitical tensions, and natural risks.

To address these issues, Dr Keita Oikawa, Economist at ERIA, explored a concrete use case illustrating data-sharing for carbon footprint traceability in the first panel on the dissemination of digitalisation in ASEAN and Japan. Panellists from Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Japan gave their respective comprehensive insights on the progress of digitalisation and what needs to be prioritised toward future digital innovation penetration.

Transitioning to a circular economy is critical for the sustainability of digitalisation. The situation surrounding electronic waste (e-waste) and used electrical and electronic equipment (UEEE) is a pressing priority issue, especially in the ASEAN-Japan context.

Fusanori Iwasaki, Director for Policy Research at ERIA, highlighted the importance of e-waste collection and recycling by leveraging the private sector's potential in ASEAN and Japan. In particular, the roadmap recommends Japan share its abundant knowledge, experience, and advanced technology with ASEAN countries, while contributing to the construction of a sustainable society.

ASEAN-Japan collaboration is expected to increase trade and investment, as well as all other beneficial integrations between two, creating, through the E-DISC platform, a fundamental digital economy system and innovative business model as catalysts for economic growth and sustainable development.

Lastly, Daisuke Nakayama, the Manager of Digital Transformation at E-DISC, concluded the event with his remarks. He emphasised that ERIA will focus extensively on digital innovation in Asia, alongside all the participants, and looks forward to their continued support and cooperation. This reiterated ERIA's commitment to ongoing collaboration and the shared vision for advancing digital innovation in the region.

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