24 Jan 2020
SINGAPORE: Digital Trade Agreement Concluded with Chile and New Zealand
The country has concluded negotiations relating to a Digital Economy Partnership Agreement (DEPA) with both Chile and New Zealand. According to Singapore’s Ministry of Trade and Industry, the agreement is designed to facilitate “interoperability between different regimes by aligning standards and addressing the new issues arising from digitalisation.” More specifically, it covers the use of electronic documentation for cross-border trade, while also establishing shared protocols for e-invoicing, personal information protection, cybersecurity, online consumer protection, digital identities, fintech, artificial intelligence, data flows and data innovation. It is also intended to boost the trade and investment opportunities open to SMEs in the three signatory nations.
Trade and Customs Arrangements
With regard to end-to-end digital trade, the agreement looks to promote the development of individual and corporate digital identities, as well as ensuring their mutual recognition, while also guaranteeing that all that such identities and any related business information remains secure. The newly-established framework also allows the customs authorities of the three signatories to exchange electronic trade documents at their respective borders by connecting their respective national single windows and accessing any other relevant interoperable cross-border digital networks. This arrangement covers a number of customs clearance documents, including electronic Certificates of Origin and Sanitary and Phytosanitary certificates, as well as electronic Bills of Lading and e-invoices compliant with an internationally-recognised standard, such as the Peppol system.
The DEPA signatories have also agreed to promote cooperation among their fintech communities, as well as to focus on the development of proprietary fintech solutions for member nations. In line with this, a non-discriminatory, transparent and facilitative regulatory regime for the development of the fintech sector is to be jointly adopted.
Addressing a number of personal data protection issues, the signatories have committed to work together to establish joint data policies and legal frameworks on the basis of a commonly agreed set of principles aligned with international best practices. This will see, for instance, the three countries collectively developing mechanisms for the mutual recognition of national trustmarks and commercial certification frameworks, which would act as reassurance for any end consumers with data security concerns. The agreement will also ensure that any commercial information transferred across borders is done so in compliance with the requisite data protection rules.
In the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI), the three signatories are to adopt an AI governance framework in line with international standards. This will include a requirement that all AI systems operate on a transparent, fair and explainable basis, while also embodying human-centric values.
In terms of online consumer protection, the DEPA countries have agreed to put in place a regulatory regime that protects against fraudulent, misleading or deceptive ecommerce practices.
Looking to the future, the DEPA countries have committed to help develop multilateral rules on digital trade within the wider framework of the WTO. A similar approach is to be taken with Singapore’s existing Free Trade Agreement (FTA) partners, including New Zealand, with promoting greater digital connectivity again a key objective. With Singapore currently negotiating a similar (but separate) digital trade agreement with Australia, the hope is that other parties will ratify comparable treaties or will become full DEPA members.
While the signatory countries have committed to ratify DEPA by April this year, a formal date for the agreement coming into effect has yet to be announced.