Leaders of the ten member countries of ASEAN signed on the 25th of November the eASEAN Framework Agreement to begin a collective effort to plug ASEAN into the global networked economy. The Agreement commits ASEAN members to an implementation schedule to achieve digital readiness for the region in order to develop the basis for ASEAN’s competitiveness into the future, better the lives of their citizens through the application of information and communication technologies and foster the spirit of ASEAN community.

The Agreement takes a holistic approach to achieving digital readiness and acts as a binding mechanism for actions in six areas. These six elements are: connectivity, local content, a seamless environment for electronic commerce, a common marketplace for ICT goods and services, human resource development and e-governance.

As envisioned, members bind themselves to facilitate interconnectivity and technical interoperability among their ICT systems leveraging existing national networks and evolving these into a regional information infrastructure. To begin with, a private sector led ASEAN Internet service Providers (ISP) Forum will be convened to explore ways of promoting the more efficient flow of Internet traffic including regional mirroring and hubbing and the setting up of national and regional Internet exchanges and Internet gateways. Together with this an effort is underway to develop measures to encourage the production of regional and locally relevant content.

To foster the growth of electronic commerce in the region, ASEAN governments commit themselves to create a seamless favorable legal and regulatory environment in order to get buyers and sellers to buy in to doing business online. The task involves measures to promote trust and confidence in the Internet including the establishment of a system of mutual recognition of digital signatures; secure electronic transactions, payments and settlements protection of intellectual property rights; promoting personal data protection and consumer privacy; and dispute settlement mechanisms.

ASEAN governments also commit to facilitate the flow of ICT goods and services in the region and promote investments in the sector. Duties and non-tariff barriers on intra-ASEAN trade in ICT products will be eliminated in three tranches. Liberalization for most goods will be completed over a three-year period beginning 1 January 2003. Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam will undertake the same measures beginning on 1 January 2008. Moreover, ASEAN will conclude mutual recognition arrangements covering ICT products.

To promote an E-ASEAN community, member countries will encourage the development of skills and proficiency in using ICT, through training and exchange of experiences. The more advanced member countries will assist less ICT enabled members in their capacity building effort through the sharing of training resources.

Finally, member governments commit to deliver more government services using ICT to make it more efficient and more widely diffused. The application of ICT will reach more people than is the case with traditional means and also allow greater interaction between governments and their citizens.

The E-ASEAN Agreement also provides for the implementation of pilot projects to demonstrate the benefits of ICT and thus generate enthusiasm and support for actions to achieve digital readiness.

In entering into the e-Agreement, ASEAN governments have agreed to promote collective efforts to complement national ICT strategies to achieve regional connectivity. This effort may prove to be the catalyst for accelerating the development of the ASEAN community.