UK-Singapore digital economy deal enters into force

According to reports, the deal includes cross-border electronic payments and accepting electronic versions of trade documents so that cargo can be cleared more efficiently.

Justin Ong

Justin Ong

The Straits Times


Britain's Secretary of State for International Trade Anne-Marie Trevelyan and Trade and Industry Minister S. Iswaran at the signing of the UK-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement in Singapore on Feb 25, 2022. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

June 15, 2022

SINGAPORE – A landmark digital trade deal establishing rules and standards for cross-border data flows and data protection between Singapore and the United Kingdom came into force on Tuesday (June 14).

The UK-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement (UKSDEA) was signed and finalised in February and both parties have completed the legal requirements and procedures since.

The Republic’s Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat officially announced in London the deal’s entry into force at the London Tech Week event which is taking place until June 17.

“In the digital age, we are going beyond our traditional economic linkages, to build new digital bridges,” he told an in-person and virtual audience of tech leaders and start-ups.

While the Republic has similar digital pacts with Australia, Chile, New Zealand and South Korea, this is the first such agreement for Britain, and also the first between an Asian country and a European one.

“The UKSDEA’s entry into force reflects the UK and Singapore’s strong commitment towards enabling new growth opportunities for Singapore businesses in the digital economy,” said Singapore’s Ministry of Trade and Industry, Ministry of Communications and Information, and Infocomm Media Development Authority in a joint statement.

“With the UKSDEA, benefits to businesses include end-to-end digital trade such as safe and secure e-payments and paperless trading, as well as seamless and trusted data flows, which encourage participation in the digital economy. Consumers will enjoy greater online consumer protection, as well as safe and secure cross-border payments.”

Highlights of the deal include the setting out of transparent rules for secure cross-border electronic payments and accepting electronic versions of trade documents, so that cargo can be cleared more efficiently and transactions made faster and cheaper.

Both countries will also help smaller businesses with jobs, connections with international partners and efforts to innovate, for instance by making government information open and easily accessible.

For consumers, laws and regulations will be established to protect them against fraudulent, misleading or deceptive conduct online.

The UKSDEA has also led to memoranda of understanding and letters being signed and exchanged on the side, to establish collaboration in areas of cyber security and fintech, among others.

Singapore is Britain’s largest trade and investment partner in South-east Asia, while the UK is one of Singapore’s top investment destinations in Europe.

Negotiations for the digital deal started in June last year, building on the existing UK-Singapore Free Trade Agreement that came into force in February last year.

The British government has described the UKSDEA as the world’s most innovative trade agreement linking two of the world’s most dynamic high-tech and services hubs, noting that “it will cut costs, slash red tape and pave the way for a new era of modern goods trade between the UK, Singapore and the wider region”.

Software provider Kofax’s senior vice-president and general manager of Asia-Pacific and Japan Zakir Ahmed said, at present, due to a lack of commonly-agreed standards and fragmented systems, companies have to rely on legacy processes that are paper-based.

“This leads to inefficiency and results in higher costs to companies and government agencies,” he added. “We see numerous business benefits from the UKSDEA in the areas of accelerating adoption of digitalisation in the areas of trade.”

Mr Noah Pepper, Asia-Pacific business lead at payment giant Stripe, is optimistic that the UKSDEA will “set clear, equitable, and predictable rules for folks building cross-border businesses”.

The SGTech industry association’s executive director Yean Cheong said the agreement will help businesses here engage seamlessly with those in the UK.

“SGTech looks forward to working with the government and our counterpart associations in the UK to translate the agreement into actionable connections that our companies can leverage,” she added.

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