Proposed changes to electronic transactions law

The proposed changes will also allow cross-border trade documents to be digitalised.
The proposed changes will also allow cross-border trade documents to be digitalised.ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

Digitalising important documents like a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) could soon be on the cards, under proposed changes to the law that governs electronic transactions.

As part of its broader digitalisation journey, the Government seeks to digitalise an LPA which allows an appointed person to make medical and financial decisions on another's behalf should the latter lose mental capacity.

It will also allow cross-border trade documents to be digitalised, thereby reducing the time and money required to process a huge amount of paperwork.

The amendment to the Electronic Transactions Act was introduced in Parliament yesterday by Minister for Communications and Information and Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations S. Iswaran.

The Act provides legal certainty for digital transactions, enables e-government services and puts in place a framework for secure electronic signatures.

On the issue of digitalising LPAs, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) conducted a public consultation late last year.

Currently, only hard copies of LPAs are accepted.

MSF said last October that digitalising this document could cut the time needed to register an LPA from an average of three weeks to eight working days. This excludes a three-week mandatory waiting period during which a person can withdraw his application and the person appointed to act on his behalf can also raise objections.

The Electronic Transactions (Amendment) Bill, which was the only Bill introduced in Parliament yesterday, also seeks to reduce the amount of paperwork involved in cross-border trade by allowing for digital documentation with international ports.

Currently, most of maritime trade involves the use of physical bills of lading, which are legal and commercial documents providing evidence for the contract of carriage, receipt and ownership of goods for a cargo shipment.

Given the intricacies of maritime trade law, the paper trail typically runs up to hundreds of pages for a single transaction. These take a large amount of time and money to process.

Research by container shipping giant Maersk and tech firm IBM in 2014 showed the cost of processing trade documents made up as much as 20 per cent of the cost of moving goods.

Digitalising trade documents would significantly enhance efficiency and productivity. The Bill will do this by aligning Singapore with standards from the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law, which spells out an internationally harmonised legal framework for electronic records.

In December, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said that Singapore is currently trialling digital documentation with two ports in China - Qinzhou and Tianjin - to facilitate trade by reducing the amount of paperwork involved.

The trials are part of Singapore's move to build its Networked Trade Platform, which will allow for electronic exchanges of documents needed for import and export, Mr Heng added.

Singapore launched the Networked Trade Platform initiative in 2018 to cut back on the paperwork involved in cross-border trade and reduce the time needed for import and export of goods, among other benefits.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 05, 2021, with the headline 'Proposed changes to electronic transactions law'. Subscribe