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Dominguez says digital push will wait on infrastructure dev’t

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A security guard walks past a logo of Alibaba (China) Technology Co. Ltd at its headquarters on the outskirts of Hangzhou, Zhejiang province March 16, 2010. -- REUTERS

MODERNIZING infrastructure is a necessary first step to digitizing the economy, the Finance department said.

Speaking during Alibaba Business School’s New Economy Workshop in Hangzhou, China last week, Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III said the Philippines has a lot of catching up to do before going into the digital space.

“The Philippines has to catch up first like China. You invested a lot in infrastructure. After the catch-up, we go beyond certain steps… but first we have to raise money and convince people, encourage new industries,” Mr. Dominguez was quoted as saying in a statement issued by the Department of Finance (DoF).

Brian Wong, the Alibaba Group’s vice-president and head of the company’s Globalization Initiatives, said the Philippines can start by cultivating entrepreneurship in e-commerce and coming out with regulations supportive of digital trade and electronic payment systems. 

Mr. Wong said that electronic transactions were nonexistent in 1999 when China was still testing the waters of digital commerce.

In 2016, Chinese electronic transactions were worth $790 billion, Mr. Wong noted.

“That is the type of change that can happen in the country. In the Philippines with a hundred-plus million population, it has a massive market that can be developed. Like the secretary said, you can catch up and leapfrog,” Mr. Wong said during the workshop.

Lecturers from Chinese universities and e-commerce firms discussed innovations that paved the way for digitalization, such as favorable state policies, the role of digital finance in eliminating poverty, a smart logistics network that can keep up with growing demand generated by e-commerce, and cashless payment systems.

Dr. Long Chen, chief strategy officer of Alibaba Group’s Ant Financial, also discussed the firm’s Green Digital Finance Alliance, which was set up in partnership with the United Nations (UN) Environment Program that seeks to reduce the world’s carbon footprint through the use of digital technology. 

Participants in the initiative are encouraged to encourage low-carbon behaviors in their daily life, such as walking instead of driving to work, from which users earn “green energy credits” on their mobile phones. The UN will then plant a tree if users amass a certain level of credits. 

“As of the end of 2017, more than 280 million users have joined Ant Forest initiative and planted 13.14 million trees in Gansu Province, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region and other areas in China, reducing carbon emission by 2.05 million tons,” Mr. Chen said.  

Alibaba’s workshop was the first overseas government training program organized by the Alibaba Business School. The program will be expanded to more countries in Southeast Asia to promote the digital economy, and its role for a more inclusive trade and development system.

“Our experience here in China is very important to look at what the future would be. It is helpful for us to be consulting with (Alibaba founder) Jack Ma and his group because they are visionary and they have actual field experience in bringing the future to reality using the power of cloud computing, the Internet, and computers to analyze big data,” Mr. Dominguez said.

Aside from Mr. Dominguez, those that participated in the workshop include Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter S. Cayetano, Budget Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Deputy Governor Maria Almasara Cyd N. Tuaño-Amador, and Bases Conversion and Development Authority President Vivencio B. Dizon. — Elijah Joseph C. Tubayan