Deepening the digital divide – worrisome WTO discussions
Hidden under the phrase of ‘e-commerce’, proposals issued to the WTO would unconditionally liberalise data flows, remove tariffs, prohibit trade conditionalities, and put national workers at risk...
What have international trade and investment negotiations got to do with the Future World of Work? As you will read in the below and the associated download - the short answer is a lot.
The longer is answer is provided in the following, but keywords are:
- Digital Divide
- the Big 6 - power and privilege
- Privacy Rights
- Data protection
Here is what is a stake:
- During 2016 and 2017, a number of proposals have been tabled in the WTO, with the most aggressive positions among the proposals coming from the EU, Canada, Japan and US. The demands from these countries and regions are listed below. As you will see, they will all have a serious negative impact on our sectors and our work.
- Removal of all tariffs and requirement of non-discrimination: basically these two mean that the countries want to fully liberalise trade routes of digital goods and services, and remove any national treatment clauses (meaning that they will remove the rights of countries to give preferences to their own companies, products and services, or restrict foreign ones).
- Enabling unhindered cross-border data flows. This would prohibit any country from demanding that their data remains within its borders. It will mean that the data is governed by the law of the other country where it is held, which may provide no effective consumer, privacy or fraud protections. Given that data is the new gold, this is particularly alarming as many governments have not yet realised the value of their data and are signing away the right to develop the means of harvesting the value from the data in the future.
- No localisation barriers: Demands to foreign providers to set up shop physically in the host country will be removed. This in turn raises numerous regulatory questions. If a foreign provider is not physically present, how will the service be regulated? Think also liability terms here.
- No technology transfer: Many developing countries have a trade clause aimed at bridging the digital divide by stipulating that foreign providers make the technology used available to the host country. This in turn has a positive flow effect as local firms and employees/workers benefit from using the new technologies and thus acquire new skills. The US, the EU and Japan wishes to ban all technology transfer clauses.
- Network competition: In relation to telecommunication networks, which are vital for the technological infrastructure, many developing countries have a clause that says foreign providers can set up network coverage in the profitable urban areas on condition that they also invest in rural network coverage. This too will be banned.
Read in the attached what all of this will mean to workers, local employment, bridging the digital divide, democracy and human rights.
There is little doubt - these proposals demand our deepest attention.