E-commerce is enabling small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) of Asia and the Pacific to reach global markets and compete on an international scale, creating many jobs in the process, according to a report launched jointly by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific at an international conference in Tashkent today. However, the region has to first tackle difficult issues of information technology infrastructure and strengthening the regulatory frameworks.
“Emerging digital technologies are transforming the e-commerce landscape and offer a new set of modern solutions and opportunities to build more inclusive growth and spur innovation,” ADB Vice-President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development Mr. Bambang Susantono said. “It offers a chance to narrow development gaps—whether demographic, economic, geographic, or cultural. It also helps narrow the rural-urban divide. However, realizing the full potential of e-commerce calls for coordinated regional and global efforts.”
The report, Embracing the E-commerce Revolution in Asia and the Pacific, examines how Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies—blockchains, the Internet of things, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and fifth generation wireless networks, among others—will transform the e-commerce industry and help unlock its dynamic potential.
Asia and the Pacific is the world’s largest business-to-consumer (B2C) e-commerce marketplace and continues to grow rapidly, the report says. By the end of 2015, the size of e-commerce relative to gross domestic product was 4.5% in Asia and the Pacific compared to 3.1% and 2.6% in North America and Europe. The Internet retailing market share of Asia and the Pacific is expected to reach around a half of the global total by 2020.
There is wide diversity in ICT infrastructure development and socioeconomic readiness to join the e-commerce marketplace in the region, highlighting the need for the governments to make stronger efforts to catch up, the report says. Despite remarkable progress in basic Internet access and availability, the region lags behind the world average in terms of the speed and affordability of broadband services as well as availability of secure Internet servers. Fixed and mobile broadband subscriptions are more numerous in Asia and the Pacific than in other developing regions. There is a wide variation in affordability of broadband access, with the irony being that the poorer the economy, the higher the cost of broadband.
Availability of alternative payments also varies widely across countries in the region, according to the report. The top four economies in the region spend around 200 times the bottom four economies spend in credit card payments per capita. With limited online payment options, many economies in the region still rely on cash-on-delivery to make online purchases. On the legal front, most economies in the region have some type of electronic transaction and cybercrime legislation. However, the laws related to privacy, data protection, and consumer protection remain laggard.
Lack of awareness of potential opportunities digital businesses offer, and low computer literacy and English proficiency in the context of the English-centric nature of websites, software, and computer interfaces pose additional challenges to many developing economies in the region.
The report offers policy recommendations to help lower barriers to e-commerce development. Developing a viable e-commerce ecosystem requires a holistic approach and concerted efforts by all stakeholders in e-commerce development, including national governments and international development institutions, trade associations and industry bodies, businesses (e-commerce vendors, payment service providers, and logistics service providers, among others), and consumers. Policy priorities should be on establishing a legal and regulatory framework for e-commerce, harmonizing international laws and standards, promoting ICT infrastructure development, broadening Internet access and affordability, and supporting financial and e-payment infrastructure.
In Central Asia, trade and transport facilitation has formed the backbone of Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) program since its launch in 2001. Out of total cumulated investments of $31 billion, trade and transport facilitation related infrastructure amounted to 80% of the total. Infrastructure in conjunction with trade facilitation has led to a significant reduction in clearing time at border crossings by 68% since 2010, through reducing travel time and increasing travel speed. Given the important role of trade for economic growth and poverty reduction in Asia, ADB will continue to provide robust support for the region’s trade facilitation initiatives.