Singapore, New Zealand, and Chile inch towards digital economy pact

Having wrapped up negotiations for the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement, which encompasses various components including digital identities, artificial intelligence, and digital trade, the three nations will now work to formally sign the agreement into force.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

Singapore, New Zealand, and Chile have moved a step closer towards inking a digital economy pact that covers various components, including digital identities, data flow, and artificial intelligence (AI). Governments from the three nations say they have wrapped up negotiations for the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement (DEPA) and will now work towards getting it formally signed. 

The agreement aimed to facilitate greater digital connectivity between the countries and establish multilateral rules on digital trade at the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The Singapore government added that the pact would complement its other free trade agreements as well as efforts as co-convener of the WTO Joint Statement Initiative on E-Commerce to develop baseline digital trade rules.

In addition, the DEPA would promote interoperability between different regimes "by aligning standards and addressing new issues" brought about by digitalisation, the partners said in a joint statement Tuesday. These would include e-invoicing, digital identities, fintech, AI, data flows, as well as trade and investment opportunities for small and midsize businesses (SMBs).

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"We recognise that digitalisation has transformed the nature of trade, and that as small, outward-facing and trade-dependent countries, we share a common objective of advancing trade in the digital era," according to a joint statement released by Singapore's Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing, New Zealand's Minister for Trade and Export Growth David Parker, and Chile's Vice Minister for Trade Rodrigo Yanez.

"We also recognise that current trade rules and policies do not fully address the new issues brought about by digitalisation and digital trade," the ministers said. They added that they hoped to build on existing trade agreement conditions by tapping technology and further collaborate on new areas essential to digital platforms. 

Through the agreement, the three nations aimed to resolve key issues that would emerge in digital economies, such as the use of electronic documentation in cross-border trade, personal data protection, and cybersecurity. 

To facilitate digital trade, for instance, digital identities could be tapped to enable greater and easier access to services, where mutual recognition of corporate identities and business information would make processes such as company registration more efficient.

The digitisation of cross-border trade also would significantly reduce document transit time, slashing turnaround time for cargo clearance and lowering operating cost. 

Through the DEPA, customs authorities from the three nations would work towards the exchange of electronic trade documents at the border by connecting their respective national single windows and enabling interoperable cross-border networks. The countries also would drive the use of and enable the exchange of electronic trade documents for customs clearances, such as electronic Certificates of Origin, and B2B (business-to-business) transactions such as electronic Bills of Lading. 

In addition, the protection of personal data was critical to maintain trust in the digital economy and trade development, according to the three partners. This was especially important as personal data would be transferred as part of electronic transactions across borders. 

However, they noted, countries today were governed by different policies and legislations on the handling of such data, where some required businesses to fulfil certain requirements before specific data was permitted to leave their borders. 

The DEPA would allow countries to establish a common set of principles--aligned with international frameworks--on which there would be consensus on their data policies and legal frameworks. Mechanisms also would be developed to promote compatibility and interoperability between their respective legal approaches to protecting personal information. 

The conclusion of DEPA negotiations between the three nations indicated their "desire" to have the agreement signed and enter into force "in the near future", the three ministers said, adding that other nations were welcomed to participate in the pact. 

Chan said: "As the nature of commerce and trade evolves due to digitalisation, it is important that we build new forms of cross-border linkages in order to create opportunities for our businesses to thrive in the digital economy."

Singapore in October also kicked off negotiations with Australia on a new digital trade pact that aimed to drive "greater connectivity" and bilateral economic relations. The alliance would span various areas including fintech, digital identity, AI, and digital trade enablement, and facilitate digital trade and business across the entire supply chain, covering digital identities, connection of customs single window systems, e-invoicing, and e-payments.

The Australia-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement was first announced in June, marking the start of a "landmark agreement" that looked to tap digital transformation and technology to expand trade and economic ties in the Asia-Pacific region. 


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