The UK-Singapore FTA, and the Digital Economy Agreement

Written by Gully Foyle - as based on multiple Twitter posts by the same author throughout 2021 and 2022. Like this article? You can get Gully a beer here.

In December 2020, the UK and Singapore signed a Free Trade Agreement, which looked to mirror the effects of the EU-Singapore FTA ahead of the UK leaving the EU a few weeks later.

But then in February 2022, the UK and Singapore signed a further trade agreement, labelled as a "Digital Economy Agreement".

So why does the UK have two agreements with Singapore, what do they do, and how do they differ? 

The UK-Singapore Free Trade Agreement

In replicating the effect of the EU-Singapore FTA signed in 2018, the UK continuity agreement with Singapore was one of the 40 FTAs that the UK had been looking to seal ahead of leaving the EU transition period. The signing of the agreement in December 2020 was one of the final agreements to be secured ahead of the deadline, and was the first agreement to be reached with an ASEAN member.

The document itself is a "short form" agreement, which essentially states that, except where specifically called out to the contrary in the appendices, the UK and Singapore agree bilaterally to the wording of the EU-Singapore FTA.

How Does the UK Deal Differ from the EU Deal?

With each continuity agreement that was signed, the Department for International Trade ("DIT", now the Department of Business and Trade, "DBT") produced a Parliamentary Report (linked to in the references below) which outlined all of the noteworthy departures from the original EU text. The majority of these were name changes, swapping references to "EU" for "UK" and names of institutions for UK ones. However there were some other changes worth mentioning:

So What is the Digital Economy Agreement (DEA) Then?

The Digital Economy Agreement was lauded by the British Government at the time of signing as "the most innovative trade agreement ever signed". The focus of the agreement was to update the trade relationship between the two countries, to take into account the modern digital economy.

In real terms, the DEA was in fact 6 separate bilateral agreements:

The Core DEA terms took the form of an update to the text of the UK-Singapore FTA, replacing and expanding on some provisions of the original text, as well as adding in new sections that were previously not covered by the agreement at all.

In Summary

The UK and Singapore, outside of some minor improvements for the banking sector, replicated the EU-Singapore agreement prior to the UK leaving the EU. With the signing of the Digital Economy Agreement, the UK and Singapore expanded that replicated agreement, ensuring that it was relevant and useful in the modern digital trading ecosystem.

So the UK-Singapore Incorporated Agreement, which combines the FTA and the DEA, is more comprehensive (AKA "better") than the trade deal the UK had access to as a member of the EU.

Gully Foyle is a prolific commentator on international trade and post-Brexit UK trade policy, and can be found on Twitter here.

Like this article? You can get Gully a beer here.