US government responds to demands to regulate big tech in WTO and IPEF negotiations

9 November, 2023: Amid ongoing public debate about how to better regulate the technology industry the US has withdrawn some digital trade demands at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) made in 2019 under the Trump administration. Those advocating for tighter controls on Big Tech have said this marked a positive step in defining global digital standard-setting and pushing back at US tech industry lobbyists’ use of trade deals to undercut government regulation.

US policy change in WTO and IPEF trade deals supports national regulation of AI, privacy, cyber security

18 December, 2023: In an interview at the Aspen Security Forum, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai has explained why the US has withdrawn support for proposals in the World Trade Organisation and the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework which could prevent governments from regulating cross-border data flows, and regulation of source code and algorithms. Big Tech companies have been opposing regulation in these areas.

Governments push to regulate Big Tech companies amid COVID-19 economic shock

April 15, 2020: India imposed a sweeping new tax on digital goods and services on April 1, 2020, closely followed by an Indonesian move on April 7. Both countries noted the rapid increase in online activity due to the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns on physical contact between people.

The Indian government used its 2020 Budget to impose the 2 per cent tax on all goods and services sold online in India by companies that do not have a taxable presence in India. The threshold for sales is low, at US$267,000.

Global public sector union investigates e-commerce / digital economy impact

May 27, 2020: The Public Services International report, Digital Trade Rules and Big Tech: surrendering public good to private power, by Professor Jane Kelsey, University of Auckland, analyses the e-commerce chapter of the Comprehensive Agreement on Trans-Pacific Partnership and some specific case studies, with alarming conclusions and a call for action.

It finds that digital trade transfers control of public services to the big tech companies, and that their main leverage is control of data and source code. This has a significant negative impact on quality of services, employee rights and working conditions, and government revenues. This transfer of control happens whether the public service is directly privatised or not.

Battle over digital economy at RCEP

July 21, 2017 There are proposals in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership that government regulation should have no compulsory disclosure of source codes, no restriction on transfer and processing of data outside the country, and no requirements for computing facilities to be locally based. These proposals raise questions about the ability of governments to have effective national regulation of data privacy and data security.

New US-Mexico-Canada trade deal alarming for global trends in consumer privacy

8 October 2018: The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (“USMCA”), a remodelling of the North American Free Trade Agreement (“NAFTA”), has serious implications for data privacy and usage for consumers in those countries and around the world according to Michael Geist in a Washington Post article.

Free trade agreements aim to increase the flow of trade and investment across borders and often restrict governments’ ability to regulate for social and environmental good. We are now seeing these agreements encourage free-flow of consumer data across borders as well, restricting governments’ ability to regulate to protect privacy.

Indian draft National e-Commerce Policy breaks new ground

February 27, 2019: Rich countries including Australia decided at the recent World Economic Forum meeting at Davos to push for an E-Commerce Agreement in the World Trade Organisation. Their formula is for ‘free digital trade’, for rules that suit global digital corporations – notably Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple. This push has been strongly criticised by consumer and civil society groups.

The Indian government has now published for comment a draft National e-Commerce Policy which aims to maximise Indian economic development while protecting the privacy and rights of individual Indian citizens. This policy has emerged against strong pressure from the global digital giants, and directly confronts their initiative at Davos.

Eminent economists warn against new e-commerce initiative for WTO

February 13, 2019: Chakravarthi Raghavan, an esteemed author of several books on the WTO, and Jomo Kwame Sundaram, former United Nations Assistant Secretary General for Economic Development, have issued a sharp warning to developing countries about the e-commerce initiative recently launched at Davos by a group of rich country governments, including Australia.

They warn first that the idea of an agreement between a minority of World Trade Organisation members on e-commerce, which has not been endorsed by the majority, would be unlawful and undemocratic, allowing a small group of WTO countries to impose their view on the majority.

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