East and West: Singapore and Australia aim for digital trade deal

Singapore and Australia have begun negotiations on a digital tech trade pact designed to smooth the path of business and build growth for both nations. Can this cooperation help to offset the damage caused by ongoing global trade disputes?

Singapore and Australia have begun negotiations intended to deliver a new digital trade pact and with it "greater connectivity" and mutual economic benefits. The trade ministers of the two nations last month shook hands on the agreed scope of the talks, which are set to cover various areas of tech business including "digital trade facilitation, e‑invoicing, e-payments, fintech and cooperation on the digitisation of trade documents, artificial intelligence (AI), digital identities, and e-certification for exports".

Aspirations for an Australia-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement were originally aired in June by the two countries' heads of state, Prime Ministers Lee Hsien Loong and Scott Morrison.

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) notes that tech business is becoming critically important to the land Down Under. Department officials assess that Australia's digital exports were worth AU$6bn and climbing in 2017, making digital the nation's fourth largest export sector. Singapore is an important part of this, as Australia's largest trade and investment partner in Southeast Asia.

Smart nations work together

The Australian Trade and Investment Commission (Austrade) specifically notes Singapore's Smart Nation initiative, launched in 2014, as an opportunity for Australian tech business. According to Austrade:

In Smart Nation, Singapore strives to support better living, stronger communities, and create more opportunities for all its citizens. "Smartness" here refers more to how well the society uses technology to solve problems and address existing challenges, rather than complexity of the technology …

Australian developers can leverage opportunities in Singapore, particularly those related to developing applications and contributing to building the Smart Nation infrastructure.

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