Jennifer Duke. Foreign cyber security rules putting dampener on Aussie fintechs: DFAT.

Asia-Pacific countries are introducing restrictive cyber security rules that threaten Australia’s technology exports, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has warned, suggesting trade terms could be used to bolster the fledgling fintech industry.

In a submission to a Senate inquiry into the fintech and regulatory technology sectors, DFAT said global governments were working to balance international trade with adequate protections for consumers and businesses.

“Faced with these policy choices, some governments in our region are putting in place measures that have the potential to significantly dampen international digital trade, such as restrictive cyber security measures, onerous privacy requirements, data localisation requirements and censorship,” its submission says.

The joint committee is looking into restrictions on the fintech and regtech sectors, which include businesses such as Afterpay, Zip and Commonwealth Bank’s Klarna, as well as opportunities for it to grow.

DFAT, which will appear at a public hearing of the committee on Friday, noted Australia’s financial sector made up a large part of the economy but a small proportion of trade.

Australia’s trade agreements currently include terms about financial services, but the submission said it was “possible to include commitments more specific to fintech”.

Liberal senator Andrew Bragg, who is chairing the committee, told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age Australia needed to maintain a leadership role in setting digital trade rules.

“Given the threats to undermine free digital trade, we cannot afford to turn a blind eye,” Senator Bragg said. “Success demands considerable input from industry, more than has been required for wool and wheat.”

Fergus Hanson, the director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s International Cyber Policy Centre, told this masthead there were a range of rules across the world that were “effectively barriers to trade” in the technology space.

Countries such as Singapore had rules about correcting disinformation on social media and Europe had the relatively new General Data Protection Regulation regime, Mr Hanson said. In some cases, these restrictions “tend to favour the incumbent, established players”.

“There are more and more cyber security requirements erecting effectively barriers to trade. It’s still not mitigating the growth [of the sector] though,” he said.

While many rules existed for legitimate purposes, such as ensuring citizens could access their own data and have control over how it was used, he said they could be used to restrict democracy.

“The geopolitical issue is making sure every country in the region is heading in the way of free, open and secure markets,” he said. “China is clearly not in the free, open and secure camp. But India and Indonesia are swing states and it’s important [for government] to make sure they go in a direction aligned with freedom, democracy and openness.”

In a submission to DFAT in 2018, the Business Council of Australia raised concerns about the rise in data localisation requirements that required data to be stored in the country it was collected. Referencing countries such as China, Vietnam and India, it suggested multilateral and bilateral trade agreements should prohibit these rules.

India is predicted to be the world’s third-largest economy by 2035, behind China and the US, and potentially a major trading partner for Australia.


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