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New frontiers: setting the digital trade agenda

Australia's digital exports were reportedly worth around $6 billion in 2017, equivalent to Australia's fourth-largest export sector.

E-commerce makes trade faster, cheaper and more efficient. It provides opportunities for businesses and offers consumers a greater choice of goods and services. In order to take advantage of these opportunities, businesses need regulatory stability and certainty and consumers need confidence in the online environment.

Australia looks to shape an enabling environment for digital trade that maximises its benefits while minimising the risks and challenges it presents in terms of privacy, security and consumer protection. One of the ways the Australian Government is building this certainty and confidence in the online environment is by taking a leadership role on digital trade.

Australia is leading the push to set international rules on digital trade, participating in World Trade Organization negotiations on e-commerce with 76 other WTO Members. Establishing international trade rules for e-commerce will help keep markets open, reduce barriers and make it easier for Australian businesses to grow into new markets and operate across borders.

We prosecute this agenda through our ambitious free trade agreement agenda and participation in international fora on standards setting.

Australia has been successful in setting e-commerce rules with the majority of our biggest trading partners through our FTAs. In these negotiations, we push ambitious e-commerce commitments that address the realities of the modern business and trading environment.

Our most recent agreements, such as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, and our bilateral agreements with Singapore and Peru, contain some of the most ambitious e-commerce rules globally.

These commitments:

  • provide certainty around how and when businesses can transfer data
  • give businesses flexibility to store data where they want
  • ensure customs duties are not charged on electronic transmissions, and
  • provide important protections for consumers, including privacy protections.

We also include rules that facilitate trade in goods through electronic means, such as rules that ensure goods are not held at the border by paper processes.

Australia has also championed international regulatory cooperation and harmonisation of international standards through forums like APEC and the G20, to advocate the development of rule-making on digital trade.

In these fora, we are taking practical steps to help build consensus on digital trade rules, including supporting initiatives on digital trade measurement, consumer protection and undertaking research on enablers of digital trade.

We are also working to foster harmonisation of technical standards underpinning digital trade and their uptake across the region, including through technical capacity building where appropriate.

DFAT has released a discussion paper, the Future of Digital Trade Rules Discussion Paper, seeking advice on stakeholder experiences engaging in the digital economy and views on trade rules for digital trade.

We welcome public submissions on the paper.

Submissions can be emailed to


Last Updated: 24 May 2019
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