Singapore, Australia to collaborate on digital economy initiatives

Both countries ink multiple agreements to collaborate on artificial intelligence, digital identities, e-payments, and cross-border data flow, among others, as part of a bilateral digital economy agreement, of which negotiations have just wrapped up.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

Singapore and Australia have wrapped up negotiations on a digital economy pact that will see both nations collaborate on multiple fronts, including artificial intelligence (AI), cross-border data flow, and e-payments. The trade agreement aims to provide a framework to facilitate "deeper cooperation" to "shape" international rules and establish interoperability between digital systems. 

Discussions on the Australia-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement (DEA) had kicked off last October and culminated over video conferencing Monday when Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his Singapore counterpart Lee Hsien Loong agreed to expand bilateral ties across several areas. 

Several agreements were inked as part of the negotiations, including plans to share best practices on AI technologies and support the commercialisation of such applications, as well as push the adoption of ethical governance frameworks on the use of AI. 

Singapore's Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) and Australia's Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources (DISER) will also support cross-border data-sharing projects to better enable businesses to access data for better insights and develop innovative products and services. 

In addition, IMDA will work with the Australian Taxation Office to facilitate exchanges and data-sharing in relation to the electronic transmission of business documents, including e-invoicing. Both government agencies will also promote e-invoicing standards and drive such transactions between businesses in the two countries. 

The two countries will also support the development of "safe and secure" cross-border e-payments, with promises to drive "transparent and facilitative rules" such as pushing the adoption of open APIs (application programming interfaces) and accepted standards such as the ISO20022.

Furthermore, plans are underway for 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. 

The aim here, the governments said, will be to make it easier for companies to submit paperless certifications, via paperless documents, for import and export of products and digitise administrative procedures involved in such activities.

The DEA also encompass pledges from both nations to ensure the "expeditious and efficient installation, maintenance, and repair" of submarine cable systems in each territory to maintain robust connectivity across national, regional, and global telecommunications. 

Singapore's Minister for Communications and Information and Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations S Iswaran said: "The DEA will make it easier for businesses in Singapore and Australia to operate across both countries by strengthening our digital connectivity. The seven MOUs cover emerging areas such as the ethics and governance of AI, and data driven innovation. They will remove barriers that companies may face in the digital economy, so that they can create new digital products and services.

"The DEA will also help companies access AI technologies and talent in Singapore and Australia, so that AI applications can be developed and commercialised more easily." 

Both countries have also renewed an existing partnership on cybersecurity, first inked in 2017, which encompassed information exchange, joint cybersecurity exercises, training, and the sharing of best practices, amongst others.

During their video conference, both heads of states also stressed the need to ensure that markets remain open and supply chains continue to function to support the delivery of essential supplies amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Singapore was Australia's fifth-largest trade partner in 2019, with bilateral trade topping SG$23.9 billion ($16.47 billion). Meanwhile, Singapore was Australia's sixth-largest investor, with some AU$85.4 billion ($49.49 billion) worth of investments having been poured into Australia, to date, according to the Australia Bureau of Statistics. 

Singapore in January concluded negotiations on similar digital economy trade agreements with New Zealand and Chile, which covered various components including digital identities, data flow, and AI. These aimed to facilitate greater digital connectivity between the countries and establish multilateral rules on digital trade at the World Trade Organization.


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