ASEAN economic ministers have initiated talks on the Digital Economy Framework Agreement (DEFA), a significant regionwide accord set to shape the world’s foremost tech-driven financial systems partnership.

The launch occurred during the ASEAN Economic Community Council (AECC) gathering, held in the Indonesian capital Jakarta on September 3.

The primary goal of the accord is to enhance the coalition’s technological evolution, propelling it towards becoming a prominent digitally connected community and economic bloc. The transformation will be underpinned by secure and transformative digital services, cutting-edge technologies and robust ecosystems.

The gathering also endorsed the DEFA negotiation framework, designed to guide discussions by outlining objectives, principles, examination areas and the timeline of the process, according to a press release from the bloc’s secretariat.

The launch of DEFA discussions follows the endorsement of their study during the 55th ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM) meeting in the Indonesian port town of Semarang on August 19.

The survey identified several core elements, including digital trade, cross-border e-commerce, cybersecurity, digital ID, digital payments, cross-border data flow and emerging topics. These areas are expected to form the basis of the talks.

Airlangga Hartarto, Indonesia’s coordinating minister for economic affairs, expressed the region’s commitment to completing the deliberations by 2025, with the goal of establishing a sustainable and inclusive digital ecosystem.

“I am honored to mark this milestone with you all and anticipate working closely with fellow ASEAN member states,” he said.

During his opening statement, ASEAN secretary-general Kao Kim Hourn highlighted the importance of the launch as a major achievement during Indonesia’s chairmanship. He stressed that a robust, advanced and forward-looking DEFA could contribute up to $2 trillion to the regional economy by 2030, reinforcing its dynamism and competitiveness on the global stage.

Thailand heads the committee, which consists of lead negotiators from the 10 ASEAN member states. This group bears the overall responsibility for bargaining provisions according to the framework’s requisites.

The first meeting of the committee is scheduled for the close of 2023, with subsequent sessions planned for 2024 and 2025.