S'pore, UK launch talks on digital economy agreement

This includes rules for cross-border data flows and ensuring high standards in data protection

Businesses and consumers can look forward to a UK-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement, which will include establishing rules to enable trusted cross-border data flows and ensure high standards in data protection.

The launch of negotiations between the Republic and the United Kingdom was announced in a joint statement by the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Ministry of Communications and Information, and Infocomm Media Development Authority.

The news came ahead of a video conference today between Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations S. Iswaran and British Secretary of State for International Trade Elizabeth Truss.

In a statement, Mr Iswaran, who is also Transport Minister, said the digital economy is a bright spot that has remained resilient despite the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.

"It is a catalyst for economic growth and the transformation of enterprises... I am pleased that Singapore is enhancing our network of digital economy agreements with a like-minded and digitally progressive partner like the UK."

He added that the agreement will build on the momentum of the UK-Singapore Free Trade Agreement signed in December last year, and promote trusted, robust and connected digital markets for people and businesses.

As the first digital economy agreement between an Asian and a European country, it will "also enhance our region-to-region digital connectivity, enabling businesses to use Singapore and the UK as digital gateways to access new opportunities in Asia and Europe".

The agreement has been a subject of discussion between both sides since at least last year.

In February last year, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab met his counterpart Vivian Balakrishnan in Singapore, where they discussed ways to boost cooperation, including the digital economy.

In another visit to Singapore last Thursday, Mr Raab said he hoped to quickly conclude ongoing talks for the agreement, with both countries being global leaders in the digital economy arena.

The joint statement said businesses of all sizes stand to benefit from the increased clarity and reduced costs associated with seamless digital transactions.

The agreement "also seeks to leverage Singapore's and the UK's strengths as innovation and financial hubs in our respective regions... We aim to explore cooperation to connect our technology ecosystems, and open up opportunities for start-ups".

The statement added that feedback from businesses and consumers on what to include in the agreement is welcome.

Singapore has so far finalised two digital economy agreements.

One with Chile and New Zealand was signed in June last year. The other agreement with Australia was inked two months later.

Negotiations on another agreement started with South Korea last June.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 28, 2021, with the headline S'pore, UK launch talks on digital economy agreement. Subscribe