Data freedom in focus under Singapore-Korea digital economy agreement

Among other measures, the new agreement will prohibit data localisation except for specific purposes such as regulatory access.
Tan See Leng (Singapore’s Second Minister for Trade and Industry)

Tan See Leng (Singapore’s Second Minister for Trade and Industry)

Hot on the heels of finalising a new digital economy agreement with the United Kingdom (UK), the Singapore government has concluded negotiations on a new digital agreement with South Korea.

It was revealed on 15 December that Singapore and the Republic of Korea (ROK) had concluded negotiations on the so-called Korea-Singapore Digital Partnership Agreement (KSDPA).  

Singapore’s Second Minister for Trade and Industry, Tan See Leng, and South Korea’s Minister for Trade, Yeo Han-Koo, jointly announced the agreement at a Joint Ministerial Meeting in Singapore.

Among other measures, the new agreement will prohibit data localisation except for specific purposes such as regulatory access. In real-world terms, this move allows businesses to transfer data securely as part of their daily business operations and allows businesses to choose where they may wish to store and process their data, according to their business needs.  

"With business transactions increasingly conducted over digital platforms, and the emergence of new business models like software-as-a-service (SaaS), there is an unprecedented rise in volume of data moving across borders,” Singapore’s Ministry of Communications and Information said in a joint statement.  

“Through the KSDPA, businesses operating in Singapore and ROK will be allowed to transfer information, including those which are generated or held by financial institutions, seamlessly across borders so as long the requisite regulations are met, with adequate personal protection safeguards in place,” it added.

As part of the agreement, Singapore and South Korea will put in place disciplines against requirements for data localisation and allow businesses to choose where their data is stored and processed, and their cloud technology of choice. This is a measure that was also implemented as part of its agreement with the UK.  

Additionally, the agreement aims to ensure that companies using cryptography can trust the market within which they operate, encourage innovation and ensure that private keys and related technologies used are protected. As such, neither country will require the transfer of, or access to, cryptography as a condition of market access.

The agreement will also deepen bilateral cooperation in new emerging areas like personal information protection, e-payments and source code protection.

As with the UK agreement, this new deal works to ensure software developers can trust the market within which they operate, encourage innovation and ensure that source code used by companies is protected. Under the agreement, neither country will require the transfer of, or access to, source code as a condition of market access. This includes algorithms expressed in the source code.

Moreover, South Korea and Singapore will identify cross-border opportunities to facilitate artificial intelligence (AI) innovation and collaboration.  

It is thought the agreement will complement Singapore’s efforts to develop multilateral rules to create an enabling environment for e-commerce as co-convenor of the World Trade Organisation Joint Statement Initiative on e-commerce.

“I welcome the conclusion of the Korea-Singapore Digital Partnership Agreement,” Tan said. “It will strengthen the digital connectivity between Singapore and the Republic of Korea and add to our already robust economic ties.  

“By aligning standards, enabling trusted data flows and allowing cross border digital transactions to take place more seamlessly, the KSDPA will open up opportunities for our businesses and people in the rapidly growing digital economy,” he added.  

The KSDPA is set to be Singapore’s fourth such Digital Economy Agreement (DEA) and the first with an Asian country.  

Broadly, the agreement is aimed at deepening bilateral cooperation in the digital economy between both countries by establishing forward looking digital trade rules and norms to promote interoperability between digital systems. 

On top of its string of digital economy agreements, Singapore has been ramping up its cooperation in the tech space with other countries.

In August, Singapore and the United States moved to jointly expand their cooperation on cyber security after signing a new memorandum of understanding (MoU) aimed at strengthening information sharing and fostering cyber security exchanges between the two countries.