Singapore, Australia begin talks on digital economy pact

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Singapore and Australia have kicked off negotiations on a new digital trade pact that aims to drive “greater connectivity” and bilateral economic relations. Trade ministers from both nations have signed off on the scope of the cooperation, which they say encompass various areas including fintech, digital identity, artificial intelligence (AI), and digital trade enablement. 

The Australia-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement was first announced in June by the two countries’ heads of state, Prime Ministers Lee Hsien Loong and Scott Morrison, marking the start of a “landmark agreement” that looked to tap digital transformation and technology to expand trade and economic ties in the Asia-Pacific region. 

Through the agreement and trials, both countries hoped to facilitate digital trade and business across the entire supply chain, covering digital identities, connection of customs single window systems, e-invoicing, and e-payments.

In addition, they would explore the role of data in the digital economy and collaborate to build trust, advocate a “safe online environment”, and boost personal data protection, the trade ministries said in a joint statement Saturday. They would look to cooperate in cross-border data flow and AI governance frameworks, amongst other areas.

The two governments added that these efforts would build on their nations’ role in establishing  new international rules for digital trade in the World Trade Organisation Joint Statement Initiative on e-commerce.

Formal negotiations for the digital economy agreement would commence shortly and was targeted to be finalised by early-2020. 

Singapore’s Trade Minister Chan Chun Sing said: “With the digital economy of Southeast Asia expected to triple by 2025, this agreement will lay the groundwork for bilateral digital economy cooperation geared towards enabling our companies to tap on this regional growth. Through high-standard digital trade rules and pilot initiatives, we will push the frontiers of digital trade and digital connectivity.”

Chan added that this digital pact would allow the partners to expand the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement as well as enrich their ongoing collaboration under the bilateral Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.

Australia’s Trade Minister Simon Birmingham noted that half of Australian enterprises already were engaged in the region’s digital economy and this number continued to grow. “This agreement will ultimately delivery practical improvements that lower the costs and increase the efficiency of doing business,” Birmingham said. 

“It will provide support to the global trading system at a time of regional economic uncertainty,” he said. “By developing digital trade rules and standards that build trust and confidence, and by deepening cooperation, Australia and Singapore can set ambitious benchmarks for others in the region.”

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