Regional trade boost for cyber, digital and data

Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

Australia’s new trade agreement with 14 Indo-Pacific countries comes with a focus on telecommunications, e-commerce, cybersecurity and the flow of data across borders.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement was signed by Australia and 14 Indo-Pacific countries, including China, Japan, Indonesia and Korea, last week, after more than eight years of negotiations.

The regional free trade agreement, the largest of its kind in the world, will be ratified early next year.

Australia has existing free trade agreements with the countries involved, and the new partnership will build on these, with new commitments on open data, telecommunications cooperation and government procurement.

Andrew Birmingham
Simon Birmingham: R-CEP trade deal has a lot to offer for Australian tech integration with the region

On data, the agreement will see the countries commit to ensure that businesses aren’t prevented from transferring data and information overseas, with an exception to be applied for the financial services sector and for national security or public policy reasons.

“The movement of data and information across borders is crucial for effective digital trade. There is an exchange of data whenever a product is ordered online, an app is downloaded or a program is streamed,” the agreement said.

“Businesses also rely on the flow of information to monitor systems and supply chains, analyse consumer preferences and collaborate with international partners. International trade barriers can arise if countries impose regulations that make this flow of information more difficult, time-consuming or expensive.”

The 15 countries have also agreed to not impose measures that require computing facilities to be located within their own territories, except for the financial services sector and for national security or public policy reasons.

“Such measures can force businesses to build data storage centres or use local facilities within each country that they seek to trade with, which increases the cost and complexity of doing business,” it said.

There will also be measures to protect personal information, deal with spam and protect from fraud and misleading conduct online.

The agreement will also “harness the growth of ICT”, with a focus on telecommunications. It includes a commitment to establish a framework of rules to govern trade in public telecommunication services and to encourage cooperation to facilitate trade in services” among the countries.

The countries have agreed to ensure that public telco services providers will provide reasonable and non-discriminatory treatment for access to submarine cable systems, and to allow the portability of mobile telephone numbers and promote reasonable international mobile roaming rates.

There will also be a common set of rules surrounding intellectual property, and rules around government procurement to support improved transparency and cooperation.

The agreement has a particular focus on promoting e-commerce and digital business.

“Digital trade is a key element of Australia’s continued economic growth. Its significance is expected to grow following the coronavirus pandemic and as increasing numbers of people around the world go online,” it said.

“There is great potential for the digital marketplace to expand and for Australian businesses to increase their digital trade activities, including in our region.”

There is a commitment to collaborate and exchange information on best practice for dealing with cybersecurity incidents and building the capacity of authorities to respond to these events.

Trade minister Simon Birmingham said the agreement would improve export potential for Australian businesses.

“This deal will further integrate Australian exporters into a booming part of the globe, with RCEP countries making up nearly 30 percent of world GDP and the world’s population,” Mr Birmingham said.

“Greater openness within our region, as well as the greater integration of value chains and more common rules of origin which this deal delivers, will make it easier for Australian businesses and investors to operate throughout the region, helping Australia to continue to grow our exports,” he said.

“There are particular gains for Australian providers within the financial services sector, education, health, engineering and other professional services, who can become better integrated within the region and have more access within RCEP countries.”

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