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Lack of data, support hampers PHL e-commerce roadmap

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By Janina C. Lim
Reporter

THE GOVERNMENT has admitted being in the dark in determining its progress in implementing its five-year e-commerce roadmap due to the lack of support form other government agencies and the absence of official industry data.

Stated in the Philippine E-commerce Roadmap 2016-2020 is government’s “primary objective” for online business activities to contribute 25% of the GDP by 2020,” a leap from the 10% the sector reportedly contributed in 2015 as per data from iMetrics Asia Pacific Corp., a local statistics firm.

Maria Lourdes A. Yaptinchay, director for the Department of Trade and Industry’s (DTI) Bureau of Trade and Industrial Policy Research, said the agency is not subscribed to iMetrics’s e-commerce index data which was used as the roadmap’s base comparative, reasoning out the “millions” it would cost government.

“It’s so hard to obtain the data so you don’t have the total picture so we just rely on research organizations… ‘Yun ang problema namin, ‘yung numbers,” Ms. Yaptinchay, who introduced the roadmap, told BusinessWorld in an interview this month in Makati City when asked for updates on the progress of the roadmap’s implementation.

The DTI wants the government to have its own official e-commerce measuring tool to factor in other success criteria indicated under the e-commerce roadmap. This includes adding 100,000 micro, small, and medium enterprises doing e-commerce compared to the 2015 base — which has not been determined — and a total of 40% to 50% of internet users doing e-commerce.

But as for the 53 action plan items dwelling on six key areas, as highlighted in the APEC Digital Prosperity Checklist, the government is on track, according to Ms. Yaptinchay.

“Fifty plus ‘yun eh, more than half naman na achieved or ongoing. Kasi ‘yung iba talaga it would take time para masabing accomplished,” Ms. Yaptinchay said.

The six major areas include infrastructure, which means improving the country’s internet access, e-government system, e-banking, e-payment, tax system, consumer protection, and logistics; investments, to promote and support a range of opportunities, from foreign direct investments to capital flows; and innovation, to nurture digital startups from the development stage up until their ideas materialize and enter the commercial market.

The roadmap also touches on intellectual capital, which means fostering the appropriate skills and training from technological to linguistic to entrepreneurship; integration to connect domestic industries with the global economy; and information flows, to use, transfer, and process data while ensuring privacy and cybersecurity.

The task list under the roadmap has led to an interagency effort with roles assigned to several agencies such as the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, Department of Science and Technology, and National Privacy Commission, among several others, to fulfill the plan’s goals.

MIDTERM ASSESSMENT
The DTI has launched efforts to conduct a midterm assessment and update of the e-commerce roadmap, Ms. Yaptinchay said. “Kasi meron d’un mga recommendations na maaaring hindi na relevant at baka meron namang kailangan gawin na wala sa roadmap.”

The DTI official declined to cite the specific areas where the country has progressed but said the agency will be able to finalize the report on the action plans within the fist quarter as they wait for progress reports from other agencies.

“Hindi lahat ng government agencies hindi nag-provide ng inputs,” she said.

As for goals that involve figures, the DTI said it is hoping to make adjustments once official e-commerce data becomes available, which Ms. Yaptinchay hopes will be possible by next year.

Currently, the DTI is working closely with the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) to discuss the budget needed for the plan.

“PSA can measure e-commerce thru the broader framework of digital economy. We plan to release by April 2020 when we release the overall revision of system national accounts which we are working on now,” PSA National Statistician and Civil Registrar General Lisa Grace S. Bersales said in an earlier mobile message.

With the launch of the digital economy framework is a national survey to be conducted by the DICT which will include a few survey questions regarding e-commerce, according to Ms. Yaptinchay.

The agencies are also discussing whether the e-commerce measuring tool will be developed by government or research companies who can be tapped.

“Pinaplano nga namin baka pwede mag-outsource, kasi baka ‘di kaya ng internal eh, yung manpower. Ipapasok namin sa budget proposal ng DTI for 2020,” she added.

The PSA once attempted to measure e-commerce activities in the country through its 2012 Census of Philippine Business and Industry report where it showed that sales of e-commerce — referred to the selling of products or services over electronic systems such as the Internet Protocol-based networks and other computer networks — that year reached P79 billion or 0.6% of total income generated in 2012.

However, the proposed e-commerce data is envisioned to capture all online business transactions, purchases and sales, according to Ms. Yaptinchay.

“Marami kasi talaga nasasaklawan ang e-commerce kaya it would require millions,” Ms. Yaptinchay added declining to give estimates pending a final budget proposal.

The agency revealed also seeking help from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) which publishes e-commerce-related reports.

One of its country-specific reports is the eTrade Readiness Assessments which aims to help countries improve their e-commerce progress.

“Originally, we create this Programme in response to the discussions at the WTO where a number of LDCs [least-developed countries] were saying that they were not ready to embark in negotiations,” UNCTAD Press Officer Catherine Huissoud said in an e-mail interview last week.

“We’re until now for LDCs only. We have done 15 already and another 10 are in the pipeline. However, we are now considering non LDCs and we have already three requests, starting with Iraq. I know there is interest from the Philippines but we have not received yet any request,” Ms. Huissoud added.

The assessment report assesses the current ecosystem in one country regarding the information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure, the legal environment, the payments, the trade facilitation and logistics, the skills, the financing of SMEs, and offer recommendations.

UNCTAD also has a program on measuring ICT Development which aids statistical offices around the world collect data on the use of ICT by businesses.