UK and Singapore sign Digital Economy Agreement
On 25 February, the UK has signed its first ever Digital Economy Agreement with Singapore. The deal is the most ambitious digital trade agreement that the UK has reached after deals with Japan, Australia and – soon - with New Zealand, which all contain advanced digital trade chapters.
Singapore is one of the most innovative countries in digital trade policy, having previously set gold standards with its DEA with Australia and DEPA with Chile and New Zealand. As the UK-Singapore DEA builds upon and, in some areas, goes further than Singapore’s existing digital trade agreements, it sets a global benchmark for high-standard digital trade rules.
The UKSDEA includes binding commitments on cornerstones of the digital economy, such as data and the free flow of digital content, as well as cooperative elements in a wide range of emerging and innovative areas such as Artificial Intelligence, fintech, digital customs, digital identities, and legal technology.
This agreement provides a strong platform for meaningful bilateral cooperation on tech and digital, allowing us to build common approaches to emerging issues and create new opportunities for innovative tech businesses.
On cooperation, the agreement creates new tech partnerships between the UK and Singapore, including areas of fintech, lawtech and data innovation. It also pledges to work towards interoperability of AI governance frameworks and digital identity and support the development of standards related to digital trade in international fora. The deal also provides a mechanism for the UK and Singapore to use cross-stakeholder engagement to inform the implementation and further modernisation of the agreement.
The DEA comprises five bilateral agreements between the UK and Singapore including cooperation on Fintech, Digital Customs, Cybersecurity, Digital Identities, Electronic Trade Documents and Electronic Invoicing.
In our Blueprint for UK Digital Tarde report, we have been advocating for cooperation on emerging technologies and establishing frameworks for cooperation in the development of regulation to support the growth of innovative technology companies. techUK is pleased that the UKSDEA locks in commitments for regulatory cooperation, ensures free flow of data and digital content between both countries, and establishes a cooperation agreements framework for emerging technologies.
What benefits the UKSDEA brings to businesses?
Cross-border Data Flows (including for Financial Services)
The deal ensures the free flow of trusted data and standards for personal data protection. Businesses operating in Singapore and the UK will be allowed to transfer information, including those which are generated or held by financial institutions, more seamlessly across borders with the assurance that they meet the requisite regulations.
techUK welcomes that financial data is not subject to separate carve outs in the deal. This reflects one of the key digital trade principles we have been long advocating for.
Prohibiting Data Localisation
This deal guarantees that UK businesses will avoid the cost of setting up servers and storing data in Singapore as a result of unjustified data localisation requirements.
Open Government Data
It also includes commitments to make government data available to the public in machine-readable and searchable open formats. This will help facilitate AI technology development, scale the UK’s AI sector and export its innovations.
Consumer and business safeguards
For companies, this includes the protection of source codes (including embedded algorithms) and private keys in cryptography. Businesses will be able to enter the Singaporean market confident that they will not be required to transfer or provide access to proprietary cryptographic and will not face forced transfer of their source code as a condition for entering the other country’s market.
For consumers, this includes guarding against fraudulent, misleading or deceptive conduct online.
Digital trading systems
The agreement will facilitate seamless end-to-end digital trade through common and interoperable digital systems for e-payments, e-invoicing, e-signatures and other key electronic documents such as bills of lading. Both countries will accept electronic versions of trade administration documents-which will enable faster and cheaper transactions, and brings time and cost savings for businesses.
The UK and Singapore will share best practices and information on logistics, including last mile deliveries and electric, remote controlled and autonomous vehicles. This provision is first of its kind included in digital trade deal.
Both countries will share best practice on single window systems, which provide traders with a single gateway to submit information to government. With the UK in the design phase of its single window, there is real value in sharing expertise and lessons learnt with Singapore, which already operates a single window system.
The deal is not enforced from the moment it’s signed. A process of parliamentary ratification will follow. To implement the agreement, industry and government need to work together to ensure that businesses are able to take full advantage of the new trading partnership.
Julian David, techUK CEO, said:
“Today’s signature of the UK-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement means that we are now part of the most advanced digital trade agreement to date and also that we can lead the multilateral agenda on ecommerce going forward. As the economy becomes increasingly digital, so does trade. Crucially, the partnership with Singapore on data, fintech, digital customs, digital ID, cybersecurity, will provide tremendous opportunities for businesses to innovate and modernise the way we trade. We are looking forward to working with the government, our members and SGTech to deliver on the promises of this agreement.”
techUK signed a new cooperation agreement with SGTech, the tech industry association in Singapore, to facilitate industry-to-industry partnership between both countries’ tech ecosystems and foster commercial links in areas such as digital trade facilitation, cyber security, digital identities, AI, and emerging tech. techUK and SGTech cooperation under this MoU will complement UK’s first digital trade deal and strengthen bilateral cooperation on the key tenets detailed in the UK-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement.
We will work together to drive regulatory cooperation on digital and tech issues and enhance industry exchanges in areas such as cyber security, digital trade facilitation and emerging tech between both countries. You can read full press release here.
If you would like to learn more about this partnership and stay up to date with our upcoming UK-Singapore engagements, please sign up for the UK-APAC Tech Forum.
If members have any questions about the UK-Singapore DEA, please get in touch with Sabina Ciofu at [email protected].
Sabina Ciofu is Associate Director – International, running the International Policy and Trade Programme at techUK.
Based in Brussels, she leads our EU policy and engagement. She is also our lead on international trade policy, with a focus on digital trade chapter in FTAs, regulatory cooperation as well as broader engagement with the G7, G20, WTO and OECD.
As a transatlanticist at heart, Sabina is a GMF Marshall Memorial fellow and issue-lead on the EU-US Trade and Technology Council, within DigitalEurope.
Previously, she worked as Policy Advisor to a Member of the European Parliament for almost a decade, where she specialised in tech regulation, international trade and EU-US relations.
Sabina loves building communities and bringing people together. She is the founder of the Gentlewomen’s Club and co-organiser of the Young Professionals in Digital Policy. Previously, as a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers Community, she led several youth civic engagement and gender equality projects.
She sits on the Advisory Board of the University College London European Institute, Café Transatlantique, a network of women in transatlantic technology policy and The Nine, Brussels’ first members-only club designed for women.
Sabina holds an MA in War Studies from King’s College London and a BA in Classics from the University of Cambridge.