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Eliminating paper documents, S$300m research fund top-up among MCI’s 2019 plans

TradeTrust is a new initiative aimed at allowing for the exchange of digital trade documentation both locally and globally, and maritime trade is the first industry being targeted.

Eliminating paper documents, S$300m research fund top-up among MCI’s 2019 plans

A general view of ships docked at Tanjong Pagar container port in Singapore. (File photo: AFP/Roslan Rahman)

SINGAPORE: A slew of initiatives are being planned to further drive businesses in Singapore to go digital, including introducing digital documentation in previously paper-driven transactions and increasing the funding for research and development (R&D) in services and digital economy (SDE).

These were revealed by Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran during his ministry’s Committee of Supply debate in Parliament on Monday (Mar 4).

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One of the key projects this year is to develop an interoperability framework known as TradeTrust, to facilitate the exchange of digital trade documentation, according to MCI’s factsheet. This would involve working with various agencies and industry partners, both local and international.

“This framework aims to reduce inefficiencies and complexities of cross-border trade arising from the current usage of paper-based documentation, such as bills of lading,” it explained.

“This lowers operating costs for businesses and the risk of fraud while accelerating the digitalisation of cross-border trade processes, thereby facilitating more efficient trade.”


The first to potentially benefit from this is the maritime industry.

The Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) will partner the Maritime Port Authority (MPA) to lead TradeTrust development for electronic Bills of Lading (eBLs). They will be supported by Singapore Customs and Singapore Shipping Association, the ministry said, adding the four parties signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to affirm their support.

They will focus on developing the infrastructure for the exchange of such digital documents and conduct technical trials to demonstrate the interoperability of eBLs across different ecosystems, it said.

IMDA will organise industry consultation workgroups with stakeholders from the maritime trade, logistics and finance sectors, before issuing a Request for Proposal to the industry to submit proposals on how to implement the TradeTrust infrastructure.

This is not the first initiative MCI has introduced to try and eliminate paper from business transactions. During the committee of supply debates last year, it announced a plan to develop a common electronic invoicing (e-invoicing) framework and modelled it after the Pan-European Public Procurement On-Line (PEPPOL) standard.

This was activated in January this year and interested companies can get on board via 11 local access point providers.


Mr Iswaran also pointed out that the budget for SDE will be almost doubled to further Singapore’s innovation and to help it remain competitive globally. A total of S$360 million was originally committed to this segment under the Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) 2020 plan.

Efforts in this domain have contributed to the growth in areas such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and data science, the Ministry of Communications and Information said in its factsheet.

As such, the SDE budget will be increased by an additional S$300 million to further boost the country’s Smart Nation and digital economy aspirations in the mid- to long-term. This is part of the next phase of the RIE 2020 plan, which will be announced at a later date, the ministry added.


  • Expanding industry digital plans to more sectors. As mentioned by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat in his Budget speech, the industry digital plan will be expanded to three more sectors: Accountancy, sea transport and construction. Smaller companies can also sign up for more cost-effective, pre-approved solutions under the SMEs Go Digital programme and these will be extended to include those in cloud computing, AI and cybersecurity.

READ: Budget 2019: Measures worth S$1 billion to help businesses build ‘deep’ capabilities

  • Ushering 5G tech to Singapore. The next-generation mobile network is currently being tested by the three incumbent telcos here, and regulator IMDA has waived spectrum fees for such trials until the end of the year. MCI said the next stage is to test out enterprise use cases and launch a public consultation in “early 2019” on issues like spectrum allocation, with the aim of commencing 5G rollout next year.
  • Ongoing review of laws. The Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) is currently being reviewed, with the second public consultation conducted last year. The ministry hopes to complete this review by 2019 and table amendments next year.

    Similarly, the Electronic Transactions Act is also being looked over to facilitate digitalisation of transactions (see: TradeTrust) and make e-commerce easier for consumers, and a public consultation is slated for the first half of this year.  
Source: CNA/kk


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