Australia-Hong Kong FTA helps fintechs grow but more can be done, DFAT says

The department believes supporting fintech and regtech industries to expand internationally will require an 'open, free, and secure internet', and 'regulatory environments that adapt and respond as technologies change'.

A free trade agreement (FTA) between Australia and Hong Kong was this month launched, touted by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) as providing increased certainty for Australian service providers and investors.

While the FTA covers many facets of trade, it also includes a provision facilitating electronic payment services.

"The second objective of trade agreement provisions on financial services is to improve market access," DFAT said in its submission [PDF] to the Select Committee on Financial Technology and Regulatory Technology and its probe into the opportunities the two vectors present to Australia.

DFAT said rules in Australian trade agreements can help local fintech and regtech companies operate and compete internationally.

"These are emerging industries and historically our trade rules have not specifically targeted these industries. However, some of the rules that Australia seeks in our trade agreements can help underpin increased fintech and regtech exports," the department wrote.

All of Australia's trade agreements include provisions on financial services, it clarified.

"The e-commerce chapters of our modern FTAs contain rules to obligate a country to permit businesses to transfer data across borders and to prohibit countries from requiring business to locate computing facilities in a particular territory (subject to legitimate public policy carve-outs)," DFAT said.

However, with the exception of the Australia-Hong Kong FTA, DFAT said data flows and localisation rules generally do not apply to most financial services.

"Securing commitments from countries guaranteeing that businesses can transfer financial services-related data would benefit fintech and regtech operators seeking to provide services online across borders by limiting circumstances under which restrictions on flows could affect the delivery of their services."

Pointing to its trade negotiations and engagement in international organisations such as the Group of Twenty, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, the department said it supports Australian fintech and regtech providers by "actively shaping an enabling environment for those providers to operate and compete in overseas markets".

DFAT said it works to foster an enabling environment through: Shaping international rules, supporting trade initiatives, and advocating to other governments the importance of minimising any trade-distorting impacts when considering rules affecting trade.

Beyond the work DFAT has done to this end, it has also told the committee that the international expansion of local fintech and regtech players still requires more support. Specifically, it's asked the committee to consider an "open, free, and secure internet", and "regulatory environments that adapt and respond as technologies change".

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