05 Oct 2021

Five reasons why the Asia Pacific is at the heart of the UK’s Digital Trade ambition

Guest Blog: Tanya Williams, Head of the Digital Trade Network in Australia and New Zealand, explores the importance of the APAC region to UK’s international agenda and digital trade policy

At London Tech Week this year, the UK’s International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan highlighted the UK government’s vision to be a global leader in digital trade. The context for this ambition is clear:

In the UK, international digital trade is already a key driver of productivity and business growth, contributing £150.6 billion to the economy in 2019 and employing 4.6% of the national workforce.

  • Globally, some estimates suggest that digital transformation investments could total US$6.8 trillion between 2020 and 2023, creating enormous opportunities for the most talented and innovative tech companies.
  • The Covid-19 pandemic has reinforced the importance of the online world to businesses and consumers, with a recent study highlighting how the ability to connect remotely has mitigated the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on the cost of supplying services.
  • However the existing and emerging barriers to growth in the global digital economy are considerable, given the varied levels of openness to digital trade and creeping restrictions e.g. on data or requirements to access source code.
  • In addition, diverging technical and regulatory standards can make it more difficult to connect different digital markets. This is particularly relevant to issues related to data, cybersecurity and new and emerging technologies, such as AI.

Overcoming emerging barriers and keeping digital markets open will require effective international cooperation. As home to some of the fastest growing digital tech ecosystems in the world, the Asia Pacific is at the heart of the UK’s digital trade ambition. Here are five reasons why:


1. The Indo-Pacific Tilt

The UK government’s Integrated Review highlights the importance of the region to the UK’s economic and security interests and commits to strengthening strategic partnerships - particularly in digital, data and cybersecurity realms - and to establish the UK as a Science and Technology hub.

As global economic power shifts eastwards, the UK’s goal is to be the European partner with the broadest and most integrated presence in the region: committed for the long term, with closer and deeper partnerships, bilaterally and multilaterally.

2. A Booming Digital Economy

According to estimates, the Asia Pacific will be among the fastest regions to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic due to strong investment in digital transformation, with spending on digitalisation set to reach US1.2 trillion by 2022. Tech adoption is comparable to the US market, with over 400m internet users across South East Asia and population growth remains strong: by 2030, 65% of the world’s middle classes and 12% of the global working age population will live in the Asia Pacific, compared to 13% in Europe and North America.

A number of UK tech companies already have a presence here, including Babylon, Ovo, Darktrace, Wise, Revolut, Deliveroo. Our aim is to help more digital tech SMEs from all regions in the UK access the growing opportunities in the Asia Pacific through the Digital Trade Network’s International Growth Programme.

3. APAC’s Leadership in Digital Trade Rules

As the global architecture that governs digital trade continues to develop, Asia Pacific countries have been breaking new ground in digital rules by launching plurilateral discussions at the World Trade Organisation (WTO), developing or upgrading digital provisions in Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) and creating bespoke digital agreements such as DEPA. These approaches seek to streamline e-commerce and address the most pressing governance issues concerning digital trade, including cross-border data flows, the protection personal data and the regulation of the internet and new technologies.

The UK government is actively engaged with partners in this space. It is close to finalising cutting edge FTAs with Australia and New Zealand, is the first European country to launch negotiations towards a DEA with Singapore and is active at the WTO’s joint initiative on e-commerce. Beyond FTAs, the UK has prioritised Australia, Singapore and South Korea as future destinations for UK adequacy and will adopt the G7’s Digital Trade Principles at the G7 Trade Ministers’ Meeting this month.

4. The Home of CPTPP

The Asia pacific is home to seven out of 11 member countries of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which has a combined GDP of £9trn and an e-commerce chapter that sets modern rules for digital trade across all sectors of the economy. CPTPP provides UK businesses with a number of opportunities: it will make business travel easier between member countries, allows the UK to go further in addressing barriers on trade facilitation and data with a wide range of partners and provides a strong platform for the UK to help shape the emerging digital trading rulebook.

5. The UK’s flagship Digital Trade Network

All of the above explains why the UK government chose to launch the first Digital Trade Network in the Asia Pacific region. The Digital Trade Network increases the UK’s digital tech capability in Asia Pacific, enabling us to create new collaborations and partnerships; support our businesses to increase trade and investment; and maximise the benefits of digital tech innovation to improve people’s lives and make businesses more productive.

So far we have championed new initiatives, such as our partnership with TechUK’s UK-APAC Tech Forum and the ASEAN-UK Digital Innovation Partnership. More widely, the DTN is addressing digital barriers by researching market challenges, piloting ways to support the interoperability of digital markets and helping businesses and investors navigate the diverse opportunities between the UK and Asia Pacific.


To find out more about our work, or to take part in our programmes, please get in touch.


The Digital Trade Network is a UK government initiative, launched by the Secretary of State for International Trade and overseen by Her Majesty’s Trade Commissioner for Asia Pacific. It increases the UK’s digital tech capability in Asia Pacific by enabling new collaborations, supporting businesses to increase trade and investment and fostering digital innovation to improve people’s lives and make businesses more productive.

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