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Business Envoy Digital Trade Edition April 2021 banner image

Australia-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement: Digital trade for business resilience and economic recovery

The Australia-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement (DEA) entered into force on 8 December 2020. A ground-breaking bilateral trade agreement, the DEA sets a global benchmark for digital trade rules and is paving the way for comprehensive cooperation across the digital economy.

It is a timely agreement. The digital economy has been critical to keeping supply chains moving and businesses open during the COVID-19 pandemic. Accelerated by the pandemic, digital technology will continue to transform the way businesses operate and interact with global customers. Supporting the growth of digital trade through agreements like the DEA will be essential to building business resilience and contributing to economic recovery.

While the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA), signed in 2003, was one of the first agreements in the world to include commitments on e-commerce, the digital economy has since developed into an essential economic enabler for all trade. Upon entry into force, the DEA upgraded the SAFTA, providing modernised trade rules that reduce barriers and assist businesses and consumers to engage with and benefit from digital trade and the digital economy.

Industry faces a range of barriers when engaging in the global digital economy, including data localisation requirements, restrictions on cross-border data transfers, and threats to data security.

The DEA addresses these barriers by establishing landmark digital trade rules that provide certainty and build trust in the online environment, maintain protections for consumers and push back on a concerning trend towards restrictions on digital trade.

A key outcome from the Agreement is the prevention of unnecessary restrictions on the transfer and location of data while preserving privacy requirements for personal information. This supports businesses operating between Australia and Singapore, including in the financial services sector.

The Agreement also provides improved protections for source code, providing greater certainty for Australian developers of both bespoke and mass-market software.

There are also new commitments on e-invoicing and e-payment frameworks, to ensure these are implemented in a way that is compatible and based on international frameworks, supporting more seamless cross-border trade.

Additionally, cooperation through the DEA is already underway in key areas of the digital economy, including data innovation, personal data protection and artificial intelligence. Australia and Singapore are trialling the use of blockchain to simplify the exchange of trade documents, to reduce administrative costs and increase trade efficiency. Cooperative work is now underway towards mutual recognition of our digital identities systems to streamline government and business processes in areas such as student visa applications.

Australia and Singapore ’s leadership on digital trade complements our work in advocating for high-quality digital trade outcomes in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Australia is also co-convenor with Singapore and Japan of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Joint Statement Initiative on E-Commerce currently being negotiated among 86 WTO members.

While the DEA is significant, the Government views the Agreement as a step towards greater regional cooperation to foster a more open and innovative digital economy.

Ongoing work on digital trade through trade agreements such as the DEA is further complemented by the Government ’s JobMaker Digital Business Plan to enable businesses to take advantage of digital technologies to grow their businesses and create jobs as part of a broader economic recovery plan. This supports the Government ’s goal for Australia to be a leading digital economy and society by 2030.

For more information about outcomes from the DEA, you can visit DFAT ’s Australia-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement webpage.

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