Singapore seeks freer international data flows to boost post-COVID-19 growth

City-state also deploys new contact tracing boxes at entrances to public places


Singapore has announced plans to improve cross-border data flows and increase digitalisation of local industry to combat the economic effects of COVID-19.

“Digitalisation and connectivity can fuel the next lap of global economic growth, " said Singapore’s Minister of Trade and Industry, Chan Chun Sing, Tuesday at the Nikkei Forum Innovative Asia 2021.

According to a Singapore Trade and Industry Ministry report [PDF], the city-state’s economy shrank a record 5.4 percent last year but expects four to six percent growth in 2021.

The Minister described some pushback to globalization and digital connectivity as inevitable, but stated it was important to “turn a potential digital divide, into a potential digital multiplier” and suggested governments and businesses do their part to help those lagging behind.

Chan named Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Chile as “like-minded partners” to “break new grounds for digital connectivity and data flows to enable the next lap of economic growth.”

Australia and Singapore signed a digital economy agreement in December 2020 and are in discussions to establish a quarantine-free travel bubble starting in July 2021. In June of 2020, a different three-way digital economy agreement was signed between Singapore, Chile and New Zealand.

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“Despite the challenging business environment last year, Singapore attracted investment commitments exceeding S$17 billion in Fixed Asset Investments in 2020,” said the Minister, attributing seven percent of this figure to Japanese partners.

Chan pitched the small island nation as a central hub in the midst of youthful Southeast Asia, complete with free trade agreements and a predictable but progressive business environment. "Singapore can be that platform for global companies to leverage on the talent and markets for Southeast Asia," he said.

Singapore has managed to tame its COVID-19 virus infection rates through quarantines and extensive contact tracing while using government programs to keep industry and its workforce steady.

The country’s GovTech organization has now announced a new device that will ease checkins to public places.

The original SafeEntry method requires users to log in with their smartphones and a QR code at building entrances and exits. TraceTogether is an encouraged, yet optional, open-sourced and Bluetooth-enabled tracker of other users encountered. It is operable via smartphone or portable token.

Billed as a way to reduce entry lines, the new SafeEntry Gateways will be present from mid-April to allow SafeEntry check in using TraceTogether at public places with large numbers of visitors, like malls, cinemas, hospitals, gated tourist attractions and some wet markets. ®

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