US e-commerce proposal for WTO ignores Facebook data scandal

April 17, 2018: In a communication to other WTO members on April 12, the US government has outlined its seven areas for a possible WTO work program on e-commerce.

  • free flow of information
  • fair treatment of digital products
  • protection of proprietary information
  • digital security
  • facilitating internet services
  • competitive telecommunications markets, and
  • trade facilitation.

Despite the recent scandals with Facebook’s mass cross-border data theft and numerous fake accounts, the US position insists on the free free exchange of cross-border data, prevents data localization and prohibits web blocking. This deregulatory push flies in the face of calls for effective regulation.

Mark Zuckerberg himself agreed in Congressional hearings to greater regulation and genuine penalties for failing to protect user data and for fake news, one example being an Honest Ads Bill.

The US also wants future rules on e-commerce to address several areas highlighted in its recently concluded Section 301 investigation into Chinese trade practices. To protect proprietary information, the US says new rules should protect source code, bar forced technology transfers and prohibit discriminatory technology requirements. These provisions enhance monopoly and slow digital technology development.

On the issue of customs duties on e-commerce, WTO Members have agreed to renew a moratorium on e-commerce duties at every WTO ministerial since 1998.

The US and 76 other WTO members committed at the Buenos Aires ministerial last December to “initiate exploratory work together toward future WTO negotiations on trade-related aspects of electronic commerce.” There is no consensus among WTO members on launching e-commerce negotiations, but Australia has chaired the first informal meeting of this “coalition of the willing” to consider the US and other proposals.