Building trust in digital trade will require a rethink of trade policy-making

Paper by Susan Ariel Aaronson: “In 2019, Shinzo Abe, then Prime Minister of Japan, stated that if the world wanted to achieve the benefits of the data-driven economy, members of the World Trade Organization should find a common approach to combining ‘data free flow with trust’. However, he never explained what these rules should look like and how nations might find an internationally accepted approach to such rules. In this paper, I argue that trade policy-makers must pay closer attention to users’ concerns if they truly want to achieve ‘data free flow with trust’. I begin with an examination of what the most recent digital trade/ecommerce agreements say about trust and discuss whether they actually meet user concerns. Next, I turn to three different examples of online problems that users have expressed concerns about, namely internet shutdowns/censorship, disinformation, and ransomware, describing how these may yield both trade distortions and less trust online. I argue that policy-makers should address these issues if they believe trade agreements should build trust in cross-border data flows. Moreover, I argue how policy-makers respond to user concerns is as important as what they include in trade agreements. Finally, I note that trade negotiators will need to rethink how they involve the broad public in digital trade policy-making, while recognizing that trade policy agreements may not be the best place to address these problems…(More)”.