Skip to main content

The digital connectivity in the Asia-Pacific region is primarily shaped by the availability of ICT infrastructure, the nature of regulatory policies, and the dynamics of competition among service providers. This paper explores the policies and regulations that affect the costs and accessibility of digital infrastructure in the 21 Asia-Pacific economies included in the ESCAP’s Regional Digital Trade Integration (RDTII) Database: Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR), Malaysia, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, Singapore, Thailand, Türkiye, Vanuatu, Viet Nam, and Hong Kong, China. It specifically focuses on trade and investment policies, as well as regional cooperation initiatives in Asia and the Pacific, that have an impact on (1) telecommunications infrastructure and services, and (2) ICT products. 

Despite trends towards liberalization, the telecom and ICT sectors in Asia-Pacific economies are generally found to be heavily regulated. The predominance of state monopolies and diverse regulatory approaches across different economies potentially result in high digital connectivity costs and a lack of a competitive environment. This potentially contributes to a significant divide in digital infrastructure quality and accessibility observed across the region. 

Drawing on data from ESCAP's Regional Digital Trade Integration (RDTII) Database, this paper discusses a variety of trade and investment policies that shape competition in the telecom market. These policies range from the liberalization of telecommunications services and participation in regional trade agreements and cooperation initiatives, to rules governing foreign entry and foreign participation in public procurement. 

In addition, the paper underscores the significance of adhering to the WTO Telecom Reference Paper as well as capitalizing on opportunities from regional trade agreements to establish guidelines for regulatory coherence, interoperability and the resolution of telecommunication disputes. Although numerous regional arrangements exist, the scope of commitments varies widely. Notably, except for the CPTPP, RCEP and North-South agreements, the obligations tend to be vague and more limited in scope. 

Furthermore, the significance of reducing trade barriers on ICT equipment and services in enhancing the affordability and efficiency of digital infrastructure for connectivity cannot be overstated. The region has generally reduced tariff barriers encountered by businesses and end-users in accessing ICT products. Although many Asia-Pacific economies have not yet joined the ITA or its expanded version, several have lowered tariffs on ICT goods through regional trade agreements, thereby achieving substantial coverage of zero-duty tariff lines. However, ICT products are extensively subject to non-tariff measures (NTMs), such as licensing, certification and labelling requirements. Here lies a considerable opportunity for improvement, particularly in simplifying the extensive certification processes for imported ICT products and diverse technical standards applied.