Tech giant: Singapore hopes a digital economy deal with the UK will help connect its own strong tech sector to that of the UK. Photo by William Cho

The UK has become the first European country to start negotiations with Singapore on a Digital Economy Agreement (DEA), following a model in which the Asian nation seeks to foster digital commerce and remove barriers to cooperation .

DEAs, such as the agreements Singapore has already concluded with Australia, Chile and New Zealand, aim to align digital standards, support data exchange while preserving rights and encourage innovation. in advanced technologies, according to an online declaration by the Singaporean government.

“A state-of-the-art deal with Singapore will keep us at the forefront of the technological revolution, ensuring us to lead the way in commerce and digital industries like fintech and cybersecurity,” said Liz Truss, UK Secretary for Commerce international. mentionned.

Closer cooperation

Negotiations between the UK and Singapore will focus on a range of issues related to digital cooperation, from cross-border data flows to areas of mutual interest like fintech and lawtech.

The talks are in part aimed at maximizing trade opportunities: the UK hopes to ‘cut red tape for UK businesses by promoting digital trading systems such as digital customs and border procedures that will save time and money. money when exporting, ”his government said.

And negotiators will also explore “securing open digital markets for exporters, allowing them to expand into new markets and sell traditional products in new ways.”

“Digital restrictions are among the fastest growing trade barriers,” said Miles Celic, managing director of trade body TheCityUK, “Over 50% of trade in services is facilitated by digital exchange, but restrictions on digital commerce have doubled in the decade leading up to 2019. ”

But the two countries also hope to strengthen consumer and business protection. The UK has pledged to “high standards of personal data protection” in the talks, while “working with Singapore to strengthen our collective cybersecurity capabilities and keep our countries safe.”

Digital commerce

Singapore signed its first DEA, the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement (DEPA), with Chile and New Zealand in June 2020. It was shortly followed by its second, the Singapore-Australia Digital Economy Agreement (SADEA), in August of the same year.

For businesses, “the DEAs establish common frameworks and rules for digital commerce that will allow Singapore businesses to digitally connect with their overseas partners in a more transparent manner,” a Singapore government statement said.

“The goals of DEAs are ultimately to reduce the cost of operations, increase business efficiency and create more transparent and easier access to foreign markets. “

They include modules on strategic sectors such as artificial intelligence, digital identification and electronic payments.

“The digital economy agreements herald a new era of global digital connectivity,” Singapore Minister of Commerce S. Iswaran said. “With like-minded partners establishing clear and harmonized interoperability rules and working together to address new challenges brought on by digitization, we can create new possibilities for digital economies. “

While AEDs are a landmark initiative of the Singaporean government, the UK, US and other countries are looking to incorporate new digital provisions into their trade agreements.

According to UK Trade Policy Observatory, last year’s trade deal between the UK and Japan included “striking” new measures to support cross-border data flows, alongside other changes. The United States has also treated digital integration as a trade priority.

A recent UN Working Paper found that, on the whole, “some [trade agreements] contain ambitious provisions to reduce regulatory barriers to digital trade and facilitate cross-border data flows ”, but most have failed to incorporate meaningful integration and have failed to support digital development and inclusion.