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Proposed changes to electronic transactions law

Proposed changes to electronic transactions law

Source: Straits Times
Article Date: 05 Jan 2021
Author: Hariz Baharudin

The proposed changes will also allow cross-border trade documents to be digitalised.

Digitalising important documents like a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) could soon be on the cards, under proposed changes to the law that governs electronic transactions.

As part of its broader digitalisation journey, the Government seeks to digitalise an LPA which allows an appointed person to make medical and financial decisions on another's behalf should the latter lose mental capacity.

It will also allow cross-border trade documents to be digitalised, thereby reducing the time and money required to process a huge amount of paperwork.

The amendment to the Electronic Transactions Act was introduced in Parliament yesterday by Minister for Communications and Information and Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations S. Iswaran.

The Act provides legal certainty for digital transactions, enables e-government services and puts in place a framework for secure electronic signatures.

On the issue of digitalising LPAs, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) conducted a public consultation late last year.

Currently, only hard copies of LPAs are accepted.

MSF said last October that digitalising this document could cut the time needed to register an LPA from an average of three weeks to eight working days. This excludes a three-week mandatory waiting period during which a person can withdraw his application and the person appointed to act on his behalf can also raise objections.

The Electronic Transactions (Amendment) Bill, which was the only Bill introduced in Parliament yesterday, also seeks to reduce the amount of paperwork involved in cross-border trade by allowing for digital documentation with international ports.

Currently, most of maritime trade involves the use of physical bills of lading, which are legal and commercial documents providing evidence for the contract of carriage, receipt and ownership of goods for a cargo shipment.

Given the intricacies of maritime trade law, the paper trail typically runs up to hundreds of pages for a single transaction. These take a large amount of time and money to process.

Research by container shipping giant Maersk and tech firm IBM in 2014 showed the cost of processing trade documents made up as much as 20 per cent of the cost of moving goods.

Digitalising trade documents would significantly enhance efficiency and productivity. The Bill will do this by aligning Singapore with standards from the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law, which spells out an internationally harmonised legal framework for electronic records.

In December, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said that Singapore is currently trialling digital documentation with two ports in China - Qinzhou and Tianjin - to facilitate trade by reducing the amount of paperwork involved.

The trials are part of Singapore's move to build its Networked Trade Platform, which will allow for electronic exchanges of documents needed for import and export, Mr Heng added.

Singapore launched the Networked Trade Platform initiative in 2018 to cut back on the paperwork involved in cross-border trade and reduce the time needed for import and export of goods, among other benefits.


Singapore seeks to enable digitalisation of key documents

Singapore is looking to be one of the first countries to enable the digitalisation of key trade documents via the adoption of the Model Law on Electronic Transferable Records (2017) (MLETR) as part of efforts to shore up the Republic's position as a leading maritime and trade hub.

This follows the introduction of the amendment to the Electronic Transactions Act by Minister for Communications and Information and Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations S Iswaran in Parliament on Monday.

The proposed changes to the law also seeks to, among other things, digitalise important documents like a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA).

Following the launch of the MLETR in 2017, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) has held two public consultations. At the end of last year, the Authority also held a focus group discussion on the drafting of the bill.

The IMDA and Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore have also been working with Blocklab, the Port of Rotterdam's blockchain centre on the requirements of title transfer capability in relation to electronic Bills of Lading (eBLs).

A successful proof of concept was executed on March 31 last year to trial the transfer of title for eBLs. This is key given that it tests the interoperability between different eBL solutions.

Most of maritime trade currently involves the use of physical bills of lading, which are legal and commercial documents providing evidence for the contract of carriage, receipt, and ownership of goods.

According to research by Maersk and IBM, documentation and processing makes up about 20 per cent of total shipping costs. Last year, the Digital Container Shipping Association said the industry can save at least US$4 billion annually, if half of the industry adopts eBLs.

The MLETR has also received strong support from domestic stakeholders such as the Singapore Shipping Association, banks and traders such as Trafigura.

The benefits expected to be reaped from this include faster processing and lower cost, lower risk of fraud, and new service offerings leading to innovative business models and new jobs.

Separately, digitalising important documents such as LPA are also included under the proposed changes to the law.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development said in October that the digitalisation of LPAs, which allow an appointed person to make medical and financial decisions on another person's behalf should they lose mental capacity, could cut the waiting time needed to register an LPA from an average of three weeks to an average of eight working days. This excludes a three-week mandatory waiting period.

Singapore was among the first in the world to enact a legislative framework for Electronic Transferable Records.

The Electronic Transactions Act however excluded five areas comprising wills; transferable documents or instruments (for example, bills of lading, bills of exchange, promissory notes); indentures, trusts and powers of attorney; and contracts for and conveyance of immovable property.

Ongoing efforts are being taken to remove items from the exclusion list.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

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