The digital economy in Southeast Asia has significant growth potential, supported by strong fundamentals such as a large number of digital consumers, young and tech-savvy populations, and increasing internet penetration. The ASEAN-6 countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam) are projected to experience annual growth of 6% in their digital economies, with estimates suggesting that the market could reach $1 trillion by 2030, according to the e-Conomy SEA 2022 report by Google, Temasek, and Bain & Company.
However, there are challenges that could hinder this growth. The region faces a digital divide, with varying levels of digitalization among ASEAN member countries. Singapore is the most advanced in terms of digitalization, while countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Thailand, and Vietnam still have some indicators where they lag behind. Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia face even greater challenges in terms of digitalization prospects.
To fully participate in the digital economy, it is crucial to establish robust regulatory frameworks. Uneven development in the region is partly due to the differing stages of regulatory framework development in different countries. Countries need to align their provisions, such as those related to cross-border data transfer, to enable seamless digital cooperation.
Additionally, there is an urban-rural digital divide within each country, except for Singapore, Malaysia, and Brunei. Rural areas often have limited access to digital infrastructure and lower digital literacy rates. While internet penetration rates are high in ASEAN, digital literacy skills and access to a broader range of digital services remain limited in some areas. Social media dominates internet usage, and efforts to promote digital literacy and expand access to the digital economy require more comprehensive strategies.
The digital divide is a pressing challenge for Southeast Asia’s digital progress, and the gap is widening rather than narrowing. Addressing this divide and enhancing digital literacy will be crucial for achieving inclusive and sustainable digital growth in the region.