Australian High Commissioner to Singapore says more digital agreements are in the works

No countries have been named yet but there are talks with a number of 'quite large economies'.

Australian High Commissioner to Singapore Bruce Gosper has hinted that Australia is in talks with other countries in the region about inking additional bilateral digital economy agreements after it finalised one with Singapore last week.

"I won't go into which countries we are talking to, but we are talking to a number of others including quite large economies about this agenda," Gosper said in an online chat with Equinix APAC president Jeremy Deutsch and Deutsch Bank Asia CTO Tim Taylor on Wednesday.

"It's not necessarily the case that others will join this agreement [with Singapore]; there may well be similar agreements in other areas but there's certainly quite a bit of interest in what we've done and we are collaborating further on this."

It comes a week after Australia and Singapore made a pact to collaborate on areas including artificial intelligence (AI), cross-border data flow, and e-payments.

Plans are also underway to launch a pilot program to establish the exchange of e-certificates for agricultural products, including meat, plant, dairy, and seafood, as well as live animals and inedible products such as animal feed, wool, and skins for import-export activities between the two countries. 

"We see this agreement as a best in class, and I hope that's true; it's the best we've done and Singapore has done," Gosper continued.

"We're actively engaged with a number of other economies in the region ... because it's not just in our interest but the interest of the region, and global connectivity and growth."

Discussions on the Australia-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement (DEA) had kicked off last October.

Such agreement, according to Taylor, would help even the playing field and remove ambiguity, which he cautioned as having the potential to "breed a lot of confusion" and "you get boutique services cropping up that then undermine the industry because they're trying to fulfil a need … but if you don't have a framework and a formal agreement in place, then you don't get democratisation of the actual service itself".

He added that without explicit standards, there is also the "danger of having to deploy very expensive infrastructure everywhere".

"If we don't have a clear understanding as to what is required between two countries, from a trade perspective, then we have to go worst-case scenario, which is deploy everything everywhere, which is highly inefficient from a cost perspective. It's just prohibitive in some cases," he said.

Deutsch agreed, pointing to how "many companies are looking to digital paths, particularly right now, to support trade, and also to support their go-to-market".

"Having a really stable platform between countries dealing with sovereignty and regulation, I think is a key area. There's a number of other areas that that will come up but having key platform is a really strong step to enable digital trade," he said.

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