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Singapore and Australia sign digital economy pact

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Both nations also ink 10 agreements to advance bilateral cooperation

Singapore and Australia yesterday inked a digital economy pact that aims to set a benchmark for international trade rules in a digital world and 10 agreements to boost bilateral cooperation.

This Digital Economy Agreement (DEA) will create a framework for both countries to cooperate more closely in areas such as digital identities and e-payments, so as to shape international rules and address issues arising from these emerging technologies.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison witnessed the signing of three of the agreements yesterday after they met through video conferencing, in lieu of a face-to-face meeting in Canberra because of the coronavirus situation.

Both leaders reaffirmed the excellent bilateral ties and said good progress has been made in a range of areas of cooperation since the two countries signed a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) in 2015.

The video conference meeting "shows that in this digital age, government-to-government business can continue despite the adverse circumstances and also demonstrates our commitment to advance our bilateral cooperation even as we deal with the pandemic," said Mr Lee.

One of the agreements signed upgraded a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on military training area development to a treaty.

It will create a vastly larger area in Queensland for the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) to carry out longer, more mechanised and integrated training across its three services.

The expanded Shoalwater Bay Training Area is scheduled to be completed by 2024 and the Greenvale Training Area by 2028. Combined, they are about 10 times the size of Singapore.

Advanced training facilities such as air-land ranges for combined arms will be built, allowing the Singapore army and air force to train together with tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, drones and artillery guns, said the Ministry of Defence in a statement yesterday.


The SAF will be able to conduct training for up to 18 weeks annually, involving up to 14,000 personnel for 25 years when the training areas are completed. This is an increase from six weeks and 6,600 personnel currently.

The other two MOUs signed on camera will see Singapore and Australia deepen cooperation on artificial intelligence and data innovation. Seven other agreements dealing with areas such as cyber security, e-invoicing and food safety were pre-signed.

The DEA will also see agencies on both sides jointly support the commercialisation of digital technologies, such as through pilot projects.

For instance, Singaporeans may eventually be able to use their digital identity to open a bank account or apply for a visa to Australia, said officials.

Mr Lee said Singapore-Australia relations have made substantial progress in the five years since the signing of the CSP agreement, and that he looked forward to deeper cooperation on longer-term issues like sustainability and climate change. "I know these are very much on Australians' minds, as they are on ours," he added.

Mr Morrison said: "While we might be isolated in distance, our partnership is as strong as ever and more important now than I considered at any other time."