Can international trade rules improve/restrain domestic regulation in digital trade?
A recent CATO webinar did throw up some of these questions.
Some highlights that the speakers brought up were as follows:
1. Internet is flattening and democratising trade. In Covid, digital rules have kept businesses open. There is an increased customer base. Many small MSMEs are using digital rules to expand their businesses.
2.Regulation for any technology is critical. Proper regulation is required in the area of the internet. The way regulation is perceived can undermine trade benefits from digital technologies.
3. Discrimination in closed markets is prevalent - Closing markets to foreign players is happening. Political economy is playing out in many economies.
4. Lack of transparency and due process can hinder progress. Lack of applying the rule of law in the digital space can be counter-productive.
5. Lack of inter-operability is an issue. Governments are making digital policies in a vacuum. Too much regulation in silos.
6. Intersection of digital trade and international rules an area of study. Movement towards to a common high level approach may be required.
7. Trade agreements do not stifle digital regulation. Domestic regulations should be subject to international obligations - non-discrimination, transparency and other basic norms
8. Sector specific commitments - coverage can vary from country to country
9. Exceptions in trade agreements - whether relevant to problems faced in the digital world.
10. Ecommerce chapters in FTAs recognise standards in consumer protection, privacy, AIs - never considered trade policies
11. US focuses on digital aspects. China focuses on trade aspects.
12. US - Firm sovereignty model - Governments dont intervene
China - State sovereignty model - lot of restrictions on what you can do in the internet
EU - Individual sovereignty model - privacy protection of personal information. Uses regulatory power ro protect this
13. Why three different approaches
American and Chinese firms - 6 and 4 firms out of the top 10 big Tech players in the world
US firms - are mainly pure digital services firm - dont sell physical products.Digital side is more important to them
Chinese firms - sell physical goods and digital services
14. Digital Trade framework - should be a multilayered framework - multi-stakeholder institutions - like private organisations - network of institutions. Better than binding obligations in trade rules.
15. What structure is best for digital trade agreements?
Global deal - at the WTO would be good to regulate digital trade.Better record than other international institutions. Regional deals and bilateral agreements have a lot of digital trade provisions. Joint Statement Initiative from Buenus Aires - plurilateral rules.
16. Architecture of RCEP and CP-TPP quite similar though substantive provisions differ.
17. Digital development dimension not addressed in free trade agreements. The question of digital inclusion.
18. Cultural differences a barrier to agreeing on digital trade rules? Yes, possible.
19. Tiered obligations (TFA model) could be used in digital trade rules. Different modules to be chosen from.
20. Lowest common denominator. Minimum standard - free flow of data and prohibition of data localisation?
21. Are trade lawyers equipped to deal with digital governance issues?
22. What is the core of these digital trade rules? - Non-discrimination or free flow of data?
Data flow - foreign websites, data localisation (national treatment)
Go beyond non-discrimination. Enabling ecommerce, online consumer protection.
JSI - has more provisions.
These are some of the issues that came up in the talk. An important question - are trade rules required for digital growth within economies? Can digital inclusion be achieved without trade rules? Can trade rules exacerbate or redue digital inequities?