Opportunities in the digital economy

Organised by the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS), Singapore

The digital economy is a major driver of global economic growth. Asia, in particular, accounted for nearly 50% of global digital revenues in 2020. COVID-19 has accelerated digital adoption across South and Southeast Asia with the digital economy poised to play a bigger role driving the region’s economic future.

Three sectors: health, education and financial technologies are growing rapidly due to the pandemic as consumers seek more convenient and accessible digital solutions. For example, the rise of digital payments alongside increasing broadband access have dramatically increased digital consumption; at the same time, underpinned by strong e-commerce growth, FinTech services that support remittances, digital lending, insurance, and investments are flourishing. These sectors could become a significant part of Asia’s booming digital economy by 2030, alongside other sectors such as digital media, travel, and transportation.

The European Union has a deep stake and interest in engaging with Asia and advancing digitalization across the region. Despite market access constraints and challenges, opportunities exist for European tech firms and funds to deploy capital in Asian unicorns and start-ups looking to scale their operations, recruit sufficient talent, and internationalize their services. With Europe’s start-up environment maturing, venture capital firms and funds in Berlin, Stockholm, Munich, Tallinn, and Madrid have the appetite and wherewithal to venture outward and inject capital within rising entrepreneurial ecosystems in Asia that are increasingly interconnected with Europe. Besides European financing, start-ups and unicorns across Asia could benefit from European business strategy, operational expertise, research and development practices and talent management approaches. And similarly, European investors could benefit from Asian tech firms in terms of business strategy and absorbing and leveraging capital to build digital services for large markets. With technologies like artificial intelligence and quantum computing seeping into our lives and economies, regulators across Asia and Europe can also share and exchange ideas on how to balance innovation with regulation to foster long-term competitiveness.  

Driving questions:

  • Which digital economy sectors offer investment opportunities for European firms in Asia and for Asian companies in Europe?
  • What are some success stories & best practices of European companies active in Asia, and Asian companies/funds active in Europe? 
  • What is the role of the government in facilitating digital trade between Asia and Europe? How should governments support tech companies and start-ups through policies? 
  • How should governments balance commercial interests and regulatory pressures?