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Singapore, UK Launch Talks on Digital Trade Agreement

Singapore and the United Kingdom will officially launch negotiations concerning the UK-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement, which will include establishing rules to enable trusted cross-border data flows and ensure high standards in data protection. The partnership will benefit consumers and businesses from both countries.

As per news reports, the launch of negotiations between Singapore and the United Kingdom was announced in a joint statement by the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Ministry of Communications and Information, and Infocomm Media Development Authority. The news came ahead of a video conference between Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations S. Iswaran and British Secretary of State for International Trade Elizabeth Truss.

In a statement, Mr Iswaran, who is also Transport Minister, said the digital economy is a bright spot that has remained resilient despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. He said that it is a catalyst for economic growth and the transformation of enterprises. He added that he is pleased that Singapore is enhancing its network of digital economy agreements with like-minded and digitally progressive partner like the UK.

The Minister added that the agreement will build on the momentum of the UK-Singapore Free Trade Agreement signed in December last year, and promote trusted, robust and connected digital markets for people and businesses.

As the first digital economy agreement between an Asian and a European country, it will also enhance Singapore’s region-to-region digital connectivity, enabling businesses to use Singapore and the UK as digital gateways to access new opportunities in Asia and Europe. The agreement has been a subject of discussion between both sides since at least last year.

In February last year, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab met his counterpart Vivian Balakrishnan in Singapore, where they discussed ways to boost cooperation, including the digital economy. In another visit to Singapore last Thursday, Mr Raab said he hoped to quickly conclude ongoing talks for the agreement, with both countries being global leaders in the digital economy arena.

The joint statement said businesses of all sizes stand to benefit from the increased clarity and reduced costs associated with seamless digital transactions. The agreement also seeks to leverage Singapore’s and UK’s strengths as innovation and financial hubs in its respective regions. They aim to explore cooperation to connect their technology ecosystems and open opportunities for start-ups. The statement added that feedback from businesses and consumers on what to include in the agreement is welcome.

Singapore has so far finalised two digital economy agreements. One with Chile and New Zealand was signed in June last year. The other agreement with Australia was inked two months later. Negotiations on another agreement started with South Korea last June.

Reports say that on a larger scale, the digital revolution also means countries can connect more than ever before, Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Heng Swee Keat said. He gave the example of digital economy agreements, which Singapore has inked with countries improving cross-border data flows for financial services.

The data that drives a lot of transactions, including the data on digital finance, on the flow of capital, is going to be critical, he said. During a global financial crisis, trade came to a halt because no one could trust anyone else. If countries can do better cross-border data flow of financial services, they can allow for better risk and business decisions, and that would allow for trade to continue to flow.

Singapore is also upgrading its trade platforms and working with other countries on how digital technology can help better manage cities, said the DPM. The more Singapore can connect globally and, at the same time, transform locally, the more successful it can be, the more it can play a role in the global economy.

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