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Hinrich Foundation-SIIA Roundtable on digital trade

Published 16 May 2023

The Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA) organized a roundtable dialogue on 20 April 2023 in partnership with the Hinrich Foundation. The discussion was focused on developing digital standards and a digital trade ecosystem, including the role of government agreements for digital trade.

The Digital Roundtable is part of the second phase of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs’ (SIIA) Digital Program, which will culminate in a special report on building a digital roadmap for "ASEAN: Innovation, Inclusion, Interoperability, and Sustainability".

Here are some snapshots from the roundtable held at the Hinrich Foundation.

Digital Trade Facilitation and InteroperabilityDigital Trade Facilitation and Interoperability

  1. Digital facilitation is designed to overcome the inefficiencies and inequalities that trade presents to businesses across Asia. A significant portion of trade has yet to be digitized, from payments to logistics processes. A particular pain point for SMEs is the duplication of processes across different service providers.
  2. While there are multiple impediments that inject considerable friction and cost into doing business digitally, more companies including SMEs are increasingly digitizing and using e-commerce to participate in trade. There is a great correlation between SMEs’ digitalization and their export participation, especially during the pandemic.
  3. Digital trade agreements seek to respond to outdated regulatory structures. Global international trade rules are quite dated and have largely not kept pace with economic realities. The objectives of these agreements are to facilitate seamless end-to-end digital trade; enable input and trusted use of data; and build trust in digital systems.
  4. Digital agreements such as the ASEAN Digital Economy Framework Agreement (DEFA) need to be ASEAN-centric and interoperable with international standards, relevant, inclusive, boost trust, and include sustainability concerns. Such agreements should comprise clear standards and be flexible to allow for different technology models and development over time.
  5. There has been a slow uptake in adopting digital framework and paperless trade. There is a need to monitor the implementation of trade agreements. It is unclear how these digital standards are adopted by the private sector.
  6. Trade facilitation agreements require a lot of work from the government and private sector to ensure that systems are compatible and standardized.
  7. Capacity building must be redesigned so that it is more actionable. There is a need for capacity-building clinics to be more specific, and action-oriented rather than about broad ideas. Sandboxes can be organized to test out ideas, which can then be scaled up nationwide. The private sector can provide training and expertise for capacity building.
  8. Socialize issues at the bilateral level and initiatives which could be scaled up at the ASEAN level in the future. Singapore is working with ASEAN partners bilaterally through non-binding Memorandum of Understandings and partnerships, which could be scaled up in the future.
  9. ASEAN Member States need to understand the merit of free cross-border data flows and why it would benefit their own businesses, and not just big tech. Fragmented digital rules impact SMEs disproportionally. It is good regulatory practice for governments to consult with agencies and private sector stakeholders before implementing digital policies.

The SIIA holds a series of roundtables to foster policy dialogue on digitalization and sustainability, advancing regional collaboration on climate action and developing a network of regional digital economies for inclusive and sustainable growth. The insights from these roundtables will be used by the Institute to drive public-private collaboration and nudge policy refinements towards these outcomes.

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