Singapore, Australia formalise digital economy pact

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Singapore and Australia have formally signed off on a digital economy agreement following months of negotiation. It marks the second such pact, following a first with New Zealand and Chile, that the Singapore government has inked covering several areas of cooperation, including cross-border data flow, digital payments, and artificial intelligence (AI). 

The Singapore-Australia Digital Economy Agreement was signed virtually during a videoconference Thursday between Singapore’s Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing and Australia’s Minister for Trade, Tourism, and Investment Simon Birmingham. Discussions between the two countries had kicked off last October before wrapping up in March, with both sides agreeing to establish a framework that facilitated “deeper cooperation” to “shape” international rules and establish interoperability between digital systems. 

The Australian pact was the second of such agreements for Singapore, which aimed to lay down digital trade rules and digital economy collaborations between economies. Through the digital economy agreements, the city-state hoped to “develop international frameworks to foster interoperability of standards and systems” as well as support local businesses, particularly small and midsize businesses (SMBs), that engaged digital trade and e-commerce.

Singapore signed its first digital economy pact with New Zealand and Chile in June 2020, pledging to resolve key issues that would emerge in digital economies such as the use of electronic documentation in cross-border trade, personal data protection, and cybersecurity.

Its agreement with Australia includes the signing of seven Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs), which would see government agencies from both sides embark on various projects and initiatives, such as the connection of National Single Windows, e-certification for import and export of goods, and sharing and verification of electronic trade documents using distributed ledger technology

Both nations also would develop and exchange best practices and adoption of ethical governance frameworks for AI, as well as develop “compatible and interoperable” mechanisms to facilitate the transfer of personal data. 

Other areas of collaboration include adopting regulations to drive “secure cross-border” e-payments and safeguard online consumers, ensuring government data is open and machine-readable, and promoting information sharing between their SMBs.   

In a joint statement, both countries recognised their bilateral trade relations and said the digital trade pact would built on this foundation to enhance economic opportunities in the digital realm. 

“With the Singapore-Australia Digital Economy Agreement, Singapore and Australia aim to create a seamless digital trading environment which is crucial for businesses during this COVID-19 pandemic,” they said. “It will also enable trusted cross-border data flows without unnecessary and costly requirements such as data localisation, while protecting consumers’ privacy and businesses’ proprietary information.”

Chan said: “The [agreement] will facilitate digitalisation of trade processes and make it easier and more cost effective for Singapore companies to engage in cross border business activities with Australia. As COVID-19 forces businesses to consider innovative ways to reach customers and adapt to a new way of doing business, agreements like the Singapore-Australia Digital Economy Agreement will allow our companies to take advantage of opportunities in the digital economy and tap new technologies to create new digital products and services.”

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