the Beanfield Centre at Exhibition Place, Toronto, Ontario


May 17 2018


04:00 PM - 05:00 PM

RightsCon Session: Can trade agreements such as CPTPP NAFTA and RCEP be used as a tool for advancing digital rights?

While the worst of the IP chapter may be suspended in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), ongoing negotiations in trade agreements continue to put our digital rights at stake: the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), and what remains of the TPP itself, now known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Across the board, digital rights advocates are concerned about the serious procedural shortcomings in trade agreements, such as lack of transparency and lack of meaningful consultation with civil society. Additionally, such agreements impact Internet policy in substantive ways, but do not accord with the established multistakeholder nature of Internet governance.

However, differences of opinion have emerged as well. Some digital rights advocates see opportunity as well as threat, believing that trade agreements can be effective tools for advancing digital rights. For example, agreements might be used to persuade member countries to improve privacy protections and expand free expression rights or reduce online censorship. On the other hand, other experts among civil society have cautioned against this, noting that the particular model of trade agreements observed to date has increased inequality and given greater rights to big corporations at the expense of workers, consumers, and the environment. Thus, these agreements may be more susceptible to giving greater rights to monopolistic Internet giants at the expense of users in the digital context, such as our privacy and personal data rights, fair use rights, and the ability to innovate without permission.

This session will be a roundtable debate among experts and advocates in digital rights and trade, representing different points of view concerning the general issue outlined above. Panellists will engage with each other and the audience to explore this central question: Can regional and international trade agreements be used to advance digital rights, and if so, how? The panel will focus, in particular, on the electronic commerce / digital trade and intellectual property chapters of key trade agreements currently undergoing negotiations, such as NAFTA, RCEP, and CPTPP. Specific provisions to be discussed include data localization and free flow of data, and possible harmonization of users’ rights through fair use in copyright.

Interactivity is built into the session as audience questions will be taken over the course of the debate and integrated into panelists’ discussion throughout.


Organized with the help of various organizations, Milton Mueller from IGP will attend this session.

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