Media Release: RCEP e-commerce chapter leaked as AFTINET raises concerns about human rights risks

MEDIA RELEASE, February 12, 2019                                                                         

RCEP e-commerce chapter leaked as AFTINET raises concerns about human rights risks

The Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network (AFTINET) has raised concerns about the human rights risks of negotiations for a plurilateral agreement on e-commerce, currently being conducted between Australia and 75 other mainly industrialised countries in Geneva.

In its submission to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, AFTINET demonstrates how e-commerce rules in trade agreements can extend the power of technology giants like Google and Facebook while undermining human rights, particularly privacy rights, consumer protections and rights against discrimination.

“An international agreement on e-commerce could allow global tech companies to transfer data freely across borders, while reducing the government’s ability to regulate the digital economy,” AFTINET Analyst and Campaigner Sophie Hardefeldt said today.

“Privacy rights and consumer protections could be impacted by e-commerce rules that enable international companies to move data, including personal data, to jurisdictions where privacy laws are more limited, effectively evading Australian privacy legislation.”

“Trade rules could also prevent governments from accessing source code and algorithms, which are important tools for identifying and responding to anti-competitive practices and potential race, gender, class or other biases.”

E-commerce trade rules may also restrict domestic reform processes recommended by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) inquiry into digital platforms and the Australian Human Rights Commission’s ongoing project on human rights and technology

“The ACCC inquiry into digital platforms recommends increased regulation of big tech companies. The e-commerce negotiations could undermine these reform processes by limiting scope for policy reform and undermining regulatory enforcement,” Ms. Hardefeldt said.

The extent of concerns about the social and economic risks of e-commerce rules has been confirmed by the leaked text of the final un-scrubbed e-commerce chapter in the Regional Economic Partnership Agreement (RCEP). Australia and 14 other governments have agreed to sign the RCEP later this year.

“The text rolls-back of some of the rules included in recent Australian trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP-11,” Ms. Hardefeldt said.

“This demonstrates that there is significant concern about the social and economic impact of e-commerce rules, particularly amongst developing countries which make up a majority of RCEP member countries.”

“We are calling on the government to pause the international negotiations, and to conduct a full inquiry into the social, economic and human rights impacts of e-commerce trade rules.”

Contact Sophie Hardefeldt 0490 141 385