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Singapore starts talks on digital trade agreement with European Free Trade Association

The Straits Times | 17 February 2023

Singapore starts talks on digital trade agreement with European Free Trade Association

by Ovais Subhani

SINGAPORE – Singapore and four European states have started talks on a digital economy pact.

The four countries – Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland – form a bloc known as the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), which signed a trade pact with Singapore in 2003 that eliminated tariffs for 99.8 per cent of exports to the group.

The proposed digital agreement will allow Singapore and the EFTA to cooperate more fully in the digital domain, enable trusted data flows and facilitate a secure digital environment, said a joint statement from Singapore’s Ministry of Trade and Industry, Ministry of Communications and Information and the Infocomm Media Development Authority.

The pact will also build on ongoing efforts, including negotiations on the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Joint Statement Initiative (JSI) on E-Commerce. Singapore is co-convener of the JSI, together with Australia and Japan.

Singapore’s Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations S. Iswaran said on Thursday: “Singapore and the EFTA states are like-minded and digitally progressive partners.”

He added that the Digital Economy Agreement will strengthen the economic relationship between Singapore and the EFTA and establish frameworks to promote more seamless cross-border digital trade, connectivity and data flows.

A statement by the EFTA and Singapore said the agreement will create new opportunities for companies and individuals of the five countries.

“Together, the EFTA states and Singapore can play a leading role in setting high-standard digital trade rules between our regions and raising the ambition of digital standards globally,” it said.

The talks for the pact come on the heels of a deal Singapore signed with the European Union in Brussels on Feb 1 – the EU-Singapore Digital Partnership – which will lead to a digital trade pact.

Digital economy and partnership agreements help Singapore build on its extensive network of free trade agreements and digital cooperation initiatives. They also complement its role at the WTO as co-convener of the JSI on e-commerce.

Such pacts have become imperative as digitalisation and technological disruptions transform consumer behaviour and business models, while at the same time creating new opportunities.

Businesses are also increasingly reliant on electronic transactions and digital solutions, from sourcing to invoicing and payments. Secure and seamless cross-border data flows have become essential to economic growth and to ensure that consumer interests are safeguarded.

The digitalisation of trade has also brought greater attention to regulations. Fragmented rules on data protection have led to varying restrictions for personal information transfer and increased compliance costs.

Singapore’s digital agreements aim to address these challenges so that businesses, including small and medium-sized enterprises, can more easily connect with partners overseas. The goals of these agreements are ultimately to lower operating costs, increase efficiency, and create easier access to overseas markets.

 source: The Straits Times