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S’pore, UK agree on digital economy deal that will cut costs and red tape in trade

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SINGAPORE – A new digital-trade deal with Britain will mean Singaporeans can soon enjoy cheaper goods and services from the United Kingdom. 

The two countries substantially concluded negotiations on the UK-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement on Thursday (Dec 9).

The agreement, which will likely come into force early next year, is Britain’s first digital agreement and the first between an Asian and a European country.

The pact will boost existing digital trade between Singapore and Britain and provide new areas of partnership for businesses on both sides, ultimately ensuring their consumers are better served.

Ms Kara Owen, the British High Commissioner to Singapore, said the pact aims to fundamentally change the existing trading system, which is very old and involves moving huge amounts of paper around the world.

“This is all about using trusted electronic means to speed up trade and make it cheaper,” she told The Straits Times.

Ms Owen said goods will be able to move quicker and cheaper: “That will definitely benefit the end consumer.”

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. 

The new deal’s key thrusts include encouraging digitalisation of the entire trading process, protecting data used and exchanged in trade deals, and facilitating a digital environment where smaller companies feel their transactions are secure and consumers are guarded against fraudulent, misleading or deceptive conduct online.

Mr S. Iswaran, the Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations, said in London that the pact builds upon and, in some areas, goes further than existing agreements: “It will set a global benchmark for high-standard digital trade rules, and benefit people and businesses in our two countries.”

Negotiations started in June for the deal, which will build on the existing UK-Singapore Free Trade Agreement signed last December that came into force in February.

That deal covers a thriving trade relationship worth more than £17 billion (S$30.6 billion). In 2019, bilateral services trade exceeded $22 billion, of which around 70 per cent could have been digitally delivered.

Ms Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Britain’s Secretary of State for International Trade, in London on Thursday said: “This cutting-edge agreement with Singapore links two of the world’s most dynamic hi-tech hubs and plays to our strengths as pioneers in digital trade.

“Negotiated in just six months, it is the first digital trade deal ever signed by a European nation and will slash red tape, cut costs and support well-paid jobs across the whole UK.”

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Singapore has concluded similar digital economy deals: a partnership agreement with Chile and New Zealand, and the Singapore-Australia Digital Economy Agreement.

It is also in talks with South Korea on a deal.

Britain and Singapore have also signed three memorandums of understanding in digital trade facilitation, digital identities and cyber security. These aim to make transactions easier, safer and cheaper and so boost businesses in both countries.

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