SETTING THE COURSE FOR A 21ST CENTURY DIGITAL TRADE POLICY

On May 24-25, 2018, the Internet Governance Project (IGP) at Georgia Tech’s School of Public Policy will hold its 4th Annual Workshop in Atlanta. This year’s workshop will explore the scientific and public policy questions raised around digital trade. It aims to help develop a digital trade policy agenda that preserves and advances Internet freedom while being grounded in evidence and sound economic analysis.

A backlash against the globalization of Internet-based information industries is producing many new restrictions on digital services by governments. The flow of information services and data across national boundaries is under growing scrutiny and assault, and not just in authoritarian countries. Interventions include data localization laws, ownership and investment restrictions on information services by foreign firms, privacy laws, cybersecurity exclusions and outright blocking of domains or services. Operators of the transnational Internet platforms are looking to e-commerce chapters in intergovernmental trade agreements to push back against market access barriers. On the other hand, national security advocates in many countries are targeting foreign players in information markets as security threats, while some progressive advocacy groups are opposing “e-commerce” chapters in trade agreements and data localization prohibitions, claiming that they are just ways for Big Tech to evade privacy protections. Both call for greater alignment of digital trade with national boundaries.

Underpinning these policy disputes are a number of unresolved scientific questions. How do we reconcile a globalized information infrastructure with nationalistic concerns over cyber and economic security? How applicable is the trade in services paradigm to the globalized digital connectivity fostered by the internet? How are information flows related to capital flows, goods and services flows, supply chains, immigration flows and payment flows? What effect do policy interventions in one country have upon the nature of these flows? If digital information exchanges are ‘trade,’ how do we measure surpluses and deficits and do they mean anything? How can we best evaluate the impact of digital trade-related policies on the global economy?

The relationship between information-related trade agreements and various legal rights also demands more research. The relationship between cross-border data flows, trade and privacy rights is the most prominent issue now. But the inclusion of copyright and trademark provisions in trade agreements is also a controversial matter that has divided industry and policy analysts.

IGP holds this meeting with the goal of helping to develop mutually beneficial digital trade policies that preserve and advance Internet freedom. The two-day workshop will bring together academics in trade, cybersecurity and Internet governance with industry, government and civil society practitioners in trade policy.

The workshop agenda will devote sessions to the following topics:

  • Cybersecurity, global data flows and foreign investment 
  • Rights and trade: Trade agreements and privacy, intellectual property, free expression and intermediary immunities
  • Measuring information flows and the impact of policy interventions on information flows
  • Data localization laws: trade barriers or security prerequisite?
  • The geopolitical context of trade: an overview of NAFTA revision, the fates of TPP and TTIP, and the significance of China’s RCEP and “Belt and Road” proposals.
  • The emerging IoT and digital protectionism

Amongst the confirmed participants are Will Hudson of Google, Damien Levie of the European Commission, Chris Hooton of Internet Association and Claude Barfield of American Enterprise Institute. After the workshop we will draft a report on the proceedings and publish its outcomes in a peer-reviewed journal. Workshop is invitation-only. Contact info@internetgovernance.org  if you are interested in requesting an invitation.

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