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Singapore is looking to sign a digital economy agreement with the EU: Chan

SINGAPORE is proposing a digital economy agreement with the European Union (EU), said Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing on Thursday. Such an agreement would allow EU businesses to adopt Singapore as a base to expand its operations to the rest of Asia and Asean, according to Mr Chan.

He was speaking to an audience of Asean ministers, ambassadors and business leaders at the 8th Asean-EU Business Summit, held at the Fullerton Hotel. In his speech, Mr Chan said a digital economy agreement would be a "key step" to connecting the EU and Asean digitally, and would help foster innovation and investments in new digital industries.

With Asean's digital economy appearing poised to boom, Mr Chan hailed digitalisation as a critical enabler in harnessing the region's potential, enabling it to participate more effectively in the global economy.

He cited efforts to integrate Asean's digital economy, like the Asean Single Window, which helps expedite cargo clearances through the electronic exchange of trade documents. He also said plans were in the works to expand the Asean Single Window and include more international partners, including those in Europe.

In parallel, said Mr Chan, Singapore and the EU could pursue a digital economy agreement, of the likes that Singapore has signed with other bilateral partners.

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Later, while fielding questions from the audience, Mr Chan added that Singapore has made a proposal on this to the EU.

"If the EU wants to sign a digital economy agreement with someone in Asia, Singapore would probably be one of its preferred partners," he said. "The level of development is similar, and the level of interest is similar. We think (Singapore) would be a natural partner."

Mr Chan was responding to a question by Frederico Donato, secretary of the EU-ABC and president of Singapore's European Chamber of Commerce. Mr Donato had asked Mr Chan to share more on the reasons behind Singapore's interest in such agreements.

"If we shackle the development of the digital domain, we shackle the development of conventional goods-producing trade sectors. That's one reason," replied Mr Chan.

"The second reason Singapore is so keen, is because for the first time in history - if we get this right - a geographically small country can transcend its size and geography. We are no longer constrained by size, or location, or geography if we can connect to the world as our hinterland and market," he added.

Mr Chan went on to suggest that a digital economy agreement between Singapore and the EU could be a precursor to similar agreements at the region-to-region level. "It's the same model as how the EU has signed free trade agreements (FTAs) with Singapore, and then Vietnam," he said, referring to bilateral FTAs that came into force last year and this year, respectively.

"Sometimes it's too complicated to get everybody on board at the same time. We move ahead with those who are most able to do so first, and that will catalyse the rest to come on board in time to come. That's how we envisage the model of the digital economy agreements evolving."

In comments provided to The Business Times on the sidelines of the event, Mr Donato voiced his support of Singapore's proposal.

"I believe that an eventual Digital Economy Agreement with Singapore should set high global standards in digital trade going forward," said Mr Donato. "Compared to other economic powerhouses, both the EU and Singapore are extremely aligned in envisaging building a global system which thrives on secure cross border data flows.

"Therefore, the EU and Singapore are extremely aligned. We welcome an open, transparent, fast flow of cross-border data, without enforcing restrictions, but based on robust and sound regulatory systems," Mr Donato added.

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