SAN FRANCISCO--Ministers responsible for information technology and e-commerce policies in Taiwan and Indonesia today urged a broad international push to establish a framework for global Internet commerce, suggesting that efforts by individual nations should be coordinated.
But Malaysia's Leo Moggie, minister of energy, telecommunications, and post, injected a note of caution, expressing reservations that globalization could lead to more problems like the currency instability that has swept through Southeast Asia in recent months.
"The current lessons of the present currency fluctuation do raise certain concerns about open liberalization and globalization," Moggie said at today's forum, dubbed the Asia Pacific Information Technology Summit. "Similarly, with electronic commerce, a workable mechanism needs to be thought through to allay any reservations."
Malaysia's prime minister has been outspoken in his view that currency speculators triggered his nation's currency woes.
Moggie and Taiwan's Shinh-Chien Yang, a minister without portfolio in Taiwan's government, also raised the prickly issue of cultural factors in Internet content.
"We need equal and reciprocal exchange of content," said Shinh-Chien, urging multilingual Web sites and computer-based machine translation programs. He also said that, because 20 percent of the world speaks Chinese, Taiwan is promoting Chinese content as a priority.
Taiwan's representative also suggested that the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, scheduled to meet this weekend in Vancouver, Canada, should undertake the challenge of drafting a framework for global electronic commerce.
Indonesia's Tunky Aribowo, minister of industry and trade, also backed an international effort, though he did not specifically mention APEC.
"We look to speedy progress for standards and guidelines for commerce on the Internet," he said, stating a goal of reaching those accords by the year 2000.
Laura Tyson, a former member of President Clinton's Council of Economic Advisers who chaired the e-commerce session at today's summit, afterward applauded a major role for APEC, noting that APEC had spearheaded the last round of global tariff reductions on computer products.
Ministers from Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, and Malaysia generally endorsed a leading role for the private sector in Internet commerce, a position consistent with that of the Clinton administration. Taiwan's Shinh-Chien specifically endorsed many elements of the White House e-commerce policy.
But Malaysia's Moggie suggested that e-commerce needs to be examined within the context of international trade policy and tax issues.
Moggie noted, and the other ministers agreed, that because different nations are at different stages of economic development, an international e-commerce framework may need to take into account the readiness of different nations to embrace electronic transactions.
Japan's Shuji Kusuda, a representative from his country's posts and telecommunications ministry, outlined four appropriate roles for national governments in e-commerce: Stimulating competition, encouraging private investments, ensuring security and stability of the Net, and opening the Net to provide equal access for all, regardless of nationality or demographic characteristics.
Randall Whiting, chief executive of private industry consortium CommerceNet, largely agreed on what government's role should be.
"We need a consistent, robust infrastructure and a wide range of commerce services," Whiting said. He specifically mentioned consistent rules for authentication, privacy, and security; industry-driven standards for interoperability; and consistent, predictable government regulations.
Xang Xuan of China's Peking University and chairman of the university-based Founder Group, pointed to his company's straddling of the public and private sectors as indicative of the changes taking place in China's economic policies. He said Founder Group may become the first university-owed firm to be listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange.