Singapore aims for global e-commerce excellence with focus on core infrastructures

Government outlines its strategy to build up the country's footprint as a global e-commerce hub, which focuses on strengthening key underlying infrastructures such as 5G, logistics, and payment.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

Singapore has identified key underlying infrastructures that it believes will pave the way for the country to become a global and regional e-commerce hub. Its "five-pronged" strategy includes building out the local 5G networks, supply chain capabilities, and payment platforms. 

Fuelled by the COVID-19 pandemic, online transactions in Singapore accounted for 14.3% of total sales value last November, up from just 5.8% in January. With levels remaining high even after the country emerged from its lockdown measures mid-2020, consumer behavioural shifts towards online shopping was expected to be more permanent, said Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chin Sing. 

"The borderless world of e-commerce presents fresh opportunities that are up for grabs by all who are willing to try. Technology is neutral. Businesses that can master it faster and better, win," noted Chan, who was speaking at Amazon's Southeast Asia Online Seller Summit 2021, held here Thursday. "Competition is no longer local, but regional and global. Since this is a phenomenon that we cannot stop, Singapore firms must position ourselves to make the most of it."

To facilitate the momentum, he said the government had outlined five focus areas that aimed to build up the country's digital infrastructure, supply chain resilience, cybersecurity, and cross-border alliances. 

For instance, it had made investments in digital connectivity, data analytics, and payments, amongst others, to boost its digital infrastructure. Key to this was the nationwide 5G networks, which Chan said would "form the backbone" of Singapore's digital economy. 

Two nationwide 5G networks were slated to be up and running by 2025, with 50% coverage by 2023. Greater speeds and bandwidth from this buildup would better support the country's capacity to handle large e-commerce orders, the minister said. 

He added that local businesses also were urged to adopt digital applications, including PayNow Corporate and the national e-invoicing network, to augment their basic e-commerce capabilities. 

Various assistance schemes also had been rolled out to help small and midsize businesses (SMBs) adopt digital technologies, including 50,000 that had tapped the SMEs Go Digital initiative. Last year, the government also worked with e-commerce platforms such as Amazon, to launch programmes that included the E-Commerce Booster Package, which shored up more than 2,200 applications within six months from launch. 

The logistics sector, too, would need to build up their supply chain resilience to ensure fulfilment of all online orders. This, Chan said, was critical as demonstrated during the height of the COVID-19 crisis, which saw global supply chains disrupted due to border closures and various export restrictions, affecting access to supplies. 

He said government agencies were working alongside logistics players to develop "specialised and value-added capabilities" across different areas, including cold-chain management, retail, and pharmaceutical logistics, that required the adoption of industry standards and technologies to meet specific customer requirements.

There also were efforts to facilitate secure data-sharing across supply chains, including the development of a common data infrastructure, he noted. This was an initiative the government supported as it "democratise players' access to data across the value chain", such as e-commerce merchants, logistics providers, and financial institutions, he added. 

Singapore last November announced plans to pilot a common data platform to facilitate a more robust supply chain ecosystem for international trade flows, with both public and private organisations participating in trials involving container flow and financial processes. 

Chan also stressed the need for a "secure and trusted" digital landscape as the country looked to become a digital economy. Here, he said the government had invested efforts to better safeguard local businesses against physical and cyber threats. 

In addition, it had established Digital Economy Agreements with various nations to facilitate trusted cross-border data flows as well as boost its digital connectivity. These bilateral partnerships had included countries such as Australia, New Zealand, and Chile, with others in the works such as South Korea and the UK, he said.

Chan said: "COVID-19 may have been the crisis of a generation, but it can also become the opportunity of a generation for Singapore if we make the right moves together. I encourage all businesses to embrace the opportunities that e-commerce presents. Together, we can put Singapore on the world map as a global and regional e-commerce hub."

The government last June released a reference guide, called Technical Reference (TR 76), detailing what e-retailers and online intermediaries should provide across the entire transaction cycle, including logistics, product tracking, payment, and returns. Published by Enterprise Singapore and Singapore Standards Council, the guidelines offered a checklist for retailers to develop their e-commerce processes and policies as well as ensure comprehensive information was available to consumers. 


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