Australia-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement to enhance digital cooperation

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Australia and Singapore are continuing to lead the way on digital cooperation through a landmark agreement that will harness digital transformation and technology to expand trade and economic ties in our region. Bruce Gosper explains the opportunity this presents for Australia.

It’s an exciting time for the Australia-Singapore relationship in the area of digital trade. A meeting between Prime Minister the Hon Scott Morrison MP and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in June 2019 kick-started work on a landmark Australia-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement. The Agreement aims to deepen the bilateral economic relationship, promote greater connectivity and provide ambitious standards for our region’s digital economy. Work has progressed at breakneck speed, reflecting the critical importance our respective Prime Ministers place on this shared objective.

In October, our Trade Ministers, the Hon Simon Birmingham and Mr Chan Chun Sing, agreed the scope of the Agreement which covers a broad range of new areas of bilateral cooperation, including digital trade facilitation, e-invoicing, e-payments, fintech, digital identity and artificial intelligence. Both countries will also explore the role of data in the digital economy and work together to foster trust, promote a safe online environment and improve personal data protection – an area both countries take very seriously.

Significantly, the Agreement builds on the Australia-Singapore Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and expands on our countries’ commitments under the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement. The Agreement also complements our joint efforts as co-convenors of the World Trade Organization Joint Statement Initiative on E-Commerce to develop international digital trade rules, and will help provide regional benchmarks on digital economy cooperation.

The ASEAN digital economy is projected to grow to US$200 billion by 2025, with e-commerce accounting for US$88 billion of that growth. The Agreement will enhance digital trade opportunities for our companies with Singapore and the broader region. Formal negotiations are underway and we are working to finalise the Agreement by early next year.

One of the Agreement’s key objectives is to deliver meaningful outcomes for business to engage in and take advantage of the opportunities presented by the digital economy.  Potential opportunities for Australian and Singaporean businesses under the Agreement were discussed by an expert panel during the Infocomm Media Development Authority’s SG:Digital Industry Day in October 2019. Chaired by PwC Singapore’s Digital Accelerator Leader and AustCham Singapore’s Cyber and Digital Committee Vice-Chair, Ms Carolyn Chin-Parry, the panel discussed opportunities for partnerships in the Australian digital economy, including real world examples.

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Director, Mr Tim Stapleton, highlighted the huge scope for cooperation between Australian and Singaporean regulators and agencies in areas including trade facilitation, digital identity and data innovation, to name a few. He explained that the Agreement would provide a framework to help build out the rules of engagement.

Accelerating Asia Co-Founder, Ms Amra Naidoo, described the growth opportunities in our region presented by hyper-localisation, rapidly improving connectivity and companies – particularly the start-ups she works with – possessing a global outlook from day one.

Dr Chris Berg from RMIT University’s Blockchain Innovation Hub acknowledged the large amount of applied research and innovation happening at the intersection between academia and business. Citing cryptographic and economic research as examples, he noted that corporates are trying to integrate high-level research into business design. He emphasised that key questions like how we manage trust and trusted information across borders require academic and industry focus.

Highlighting the large growth potential of the region’s digital economy, Telstra’s Head of Enterprise Customer Hub and AustCham Singapore’s Cyber and Digital Committee Vice-Chair, Mr Ben Vella, explained the new capacity for reach and increased bandwidth leading to expanded capacity. The next wave of capacity expansion will relate to the 5th generation of telecommunication networks (5G).

All panellists were positive about operating or launching a digital business in Australia. Australia was also described as an insightful test market for Singapore companies before they expand to the United States or the European Union. Singaporean start-up Neuron Mobility Founder, Mr Zachary Wang, said that he chose to expand to Australia as he was looking for a Singapore ‘lookalike’ market. Mr Wang explained that Australia was a relatively easy and transparent system to set up in and navigate and highlighted that local governments are relatively interested and willing to explore tech ideas and solutions.

Singapore is Australia’s largest trade and investment partner in South-East Asia. As two vibrant and open economies, we share a vision for improved economic integration between our countries. Our populations also adopt new technology at high levels. The Australia-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement will provides the framework for this work, but a lot will rest on an ongoing agenda. Some areas of collaboration could include digital certification, strengthened efforts in relation to cyber, the harmonisation of business and investments standards and shared efforts to seed innovation.

We are leading the way in the digital economy and we are eager to work with Singapore to maximise ambition in areas of common interest.

Are you an Australian company in Singapore working in cyber and digital? The Australian High Commission in Singapore would love to hear from you to learn more about your work. Please contact us at public-affairs-SING@dfat.gov.au.

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