Singapore, Australia and Japan nudge WTO one step nearer to coming up with e-commerce rules

Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations S. Iswaran said there was a general concern about the state of global trade and its implications for the global economy. PHOTO: WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM

DAVOS - Digital trade, including e-commerce, is one of the bright spots in the global economy and offers many opportunities including for small and medium enterprises (SMEs), said Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations S. Iswaran.

To that end, Singapore, together with Australia and Japan, hosted a meeting of World Trade Organization (WTO) members on Friday (Jan 25) to kick start negotiations for rules governing e-commerce.

The meeting took place in Davos, on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum (WEF).

The meeting was a step forward for the Joint Statement on Electronic Commerce initiative launched at a WTO ministerial conference in Buenos Aires in December 2017.

The three countries then led exploratory work geared towards laying the foundation for WTO negotiations. Friday's meeting will now move the matter into the negotiations stage, with the aim of getting as many WTO members to participate as possible.

Mr Iswaran said this will take the digital trade agenda forward. It will also strengthen the WTO as a multilateral agency which is able to continue to respond to the latest needs of the economy, and respond to it by creating a set of rules and norms.

Speaking to Singapore reporters after four days of back-to-back discussions at WEF, Mr Iswaran, who is also Minister for Communications and Information, said there was a general concern about the state of global trade and its implications for the global economy, primarily because of the United States-China trade spate.

Cybersecurity was also a topic that came up with participants calling for a global rules-based norm to ensure a safe and secured cyber space which businesses and consumers can use.

He said that Singapore's contributions, not just in terms of what is happening in Singapore but its work with international partners, was welcomed.

"Many businesses as well as international organisations and countries are keen to work with us," he said at the Sunstar Alpine hotel before heading home.

Singapore had earlier in the week introduced a model framework for the governance of artificial intelligence (AI), which Mr Iswaran said had been well-received.

"It positions us well in terms of the global discourse on AI and also other frontier technologies which have much potential for the future," he said.

Beyond global trade, the issue of inclusiveness in economic growth was a big topic.

"There is a recognition that while globalisation and also technology developments contribute to growing the pie, the distribution of the pie can get more asymmetric," he said.

"Those who have more access to technology, and who are able to use technology more proficiently, will tend to be greater beneficiaries. Those who are able to adapt to globalisation better, are going to be better beneficiaries."

He said such issues of inclusivity and growth is something Singapore has focused on for some time, such as efforts in training and reskilling of Singaporeans through Skills Future and helping SMEs go digital.

He added that from his discussions, he was struck by how Singapore is held in high regard "as a place that is able to not just offer thought-leadership on important global issues, but also as a place where we are getting things done, and that we are not just deliberating on a conceptual level, and are actually translating them into specific policies, and implementing them".

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