The Significance of the new UK-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement

By Pyari Chopra


https://blogs.iadb.org/integration-trade/en/the-digital-economy-partnership-agreement-a-milestone-in-trade-negotiations/


As Singapore and the UK have substantially concluded negotiations on the UK-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement (DEA), it is pertinent to examine its significance given that it will likely be coming into force soon and will impact the course of the law on the digital economy in both countries.


A Brief Summary of the Digital Economy Agreement (DEA)


The DEA in general allows for an open digital market between the UK and Singapore. For example, both countries have committed to not impose customs duties on electronic transmissions. [1] Both countries have also signed three Memorandums of Understandings (MOUs) in Digital Trade Facilitation, Digital Identities, and Cyber Security. [2]


There are three key thrusts to the DEA. [3]


1. Advancing end-to-end digital trade


End-to-end digital trade through common and interoperable digital systems will be facilitated. The DEA will allow for electronic signatures, contracts, and invoicing processes to be conducted on cross-border transactions, enabling faster and cheaper transactions while reducing costs for business. [4]


The DEA also commits both countries to work towards mutual recognition of electronic authentication and digital signatures. [5]


2. Enabling trusted data flows


The DEA commits both the UK and Singapore to high standards in personal data protection [6] and prohibits new, unjustified data localisation requirements, [7] which helps reduce operating costs for businesses. Additionally, both countries have committed to banning unjustified restrictions on the cross-border flow of data. [8]


Lastly, the DEA commits the UK and Singapore to facilitate public access to government data, where appropriate, especially for SMEs.


3. Facilitating a trusted and secure digital environment and promoting participation in the digital economy


Both countries have committed to protecting the rights of consumers online through laws and regulations to ban misleading, deceptive, fraudulent, and unfair commercial practices. [9]


Both countries have also committed to protecting businesses from the forced transfer of their intellectual property, encouraging businesses to enter new markets. [10]


Aside from these three main thrusts, the UK and Singapore have also committed to working together on emerging technology, LawTech, and FinTech. [11]


Implications of the DEA


The new DEA, if operating as planned, will serve to enhance Singapore and UK’s already strong economic ties as well as to further enhance both countries’ respective digital markets by allowing businesses from either country to have access to these markets.


Singapore has a history of fostering trade through its emphasis on free trade agreements, and this new DEA will only serve to enhance Singapore’s place in the global economy. The DEA will conversely give UK exporters a push to “expand into high-tech markets” [12] and allow the UK further access into Singapore’s digital market, thus enhancing “[its] status as a global hub for services and digital trade” [13] by providing it access to the Asia-Pacific region for tech and digital services.


This is also, notably, the first digital trade agreement in Europe wherein negotiations have started, which the UK has noted may allow them to take the lead in shaping such DEAs and to grow their global influence, given the international nature of digital markets. [14]


Both the UK and Singapore have noted the importance of digital trade and online commerce and have expressed their desires to take advantage of this new industry. [15] Singapore in particular has made major strides in this area, signing similar agreements with Korea, Australia, Chile, and New Zealand, [16] showing its commitment to becoming a leader in the digital economy. The COVID-19 pandemic may have further galvanised such perspectives, given the importance of technology and online services during this period.





References:

[1] Department for International Trade,’UK-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement: agreement in principle explainer’ <https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-singapore-digital-economy-agreement-agreement-in-principle-explainer/uk-singapore-digital-economy-agreement-agreement-in-principle-explainer> (Digital Trade, 9 Dec 2021)

[2] Department for International Trade,’UK-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement: agreement in principle explainer’ <https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-singapore-digital-economy-agreement-agreement-in-principle-explainer/uk-singapore-digital-economy-agreement-agreement-in-principle-explainer> (Digital Trade, 9 Dec 2021), MTI, ‘Singapore and the United Kingdom substantially conclude negotiations of a digital economy agreement’ <https://www.mti.gov.sg/Newsroom/Press-Releases> (Press Releases, 9 Dec 2021), Para 5

[3] MTI, ‘Singapore and the United Kingdom substantially conclude negotiations of a digital economy agreement’ <https://www.mti.gov.sg/Newsroom/Press-Releases> (Press Releases, 9 Dec 2021), Para 4

[4] Department for International Trade,’UK-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement: agreement in principle explainer’ <https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-singapore-digital-economy-agreement-agreement-in-principle-explainer/uk-singapore-digital-economy-agreement-agreement-in-principle-explainer> (Digital Trade, 9 Dec 2021)

[5] Ibid.

[6] Department for International Trade,’UK-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement: agreement in principle explainer’ <https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-singapore-digital-economy-agreement-agreement-in-principle-explainer/uk-singapore-digital-economy-agreement-agreement-in-principle-explainer> (Digital Trade, 9 Dec 2021) , MTI, ‘Singapore and the United Kingdom substantially conclude negotiations of a digital economy agreement’ <https://www.mti.gov.sg/Newsroom/Press-Releases> (Press Releases, 9 Dec 2021), Para 4

[7] Ibid.

[8] Department for International Trade,’UK-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement: agreement in principle explainer’ <https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-singapore-digital-economy-agreement-agreement-in-principle-explainer/uk-singapore-digital-economy-agreement-agreement-in-principle-explainer> (Digital Trade, 9 Dec 2021)

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Department for International Trade,’UK-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement: agreement in principle explainer’ <https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-singapore-digital-economy-agreement-agreement-in-principle-explainer/uk-singapore-digital-economy-agreement-agreement-in-principle-explainer> (Digital Trade, 9 Dec 2021)

[12] HC Deb 28 June 2021, vol 698, WS124

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] HC Deb 28 June 2021, vol 698, WS124, MTI, ‘Digital Economy Agreements’ <https://www.mti.gov.sg/Improving-Trade/Digital-Economy-Agreements>

[16] MTI, ‘Digital Economy Agreements’ <https://www.mti.gov.sg/Improving-Trade/Digital-Economy-Agreements>