Digital Trade Rules Factsheet

Recent and pending U.S. trade agreements have chapters on digital trade that
could have far-reaching implications for jobs and the economy, racial justice,
consumer rights and more in the United States and around the world.

Digital trade rules currently on the table:

  • Are Being Driven by Huge Corporate Interests: The digital trade chapters
    of trade agreements are often presented as a means of helping small- and
    medium-sized businesses reach more potential customers over the Internet.
    In reality, these trade provisions are an effort by some of the largest global
    corporations to lock-in rules that enable them to dominate the digital economy
    of the future at the expense of public-interest concerns. This rule making is
    not being driven by mom-and-pop businesses, but rather by megacorporations along the lines of Google (information), Facebook (media),
    Amazon (retail) and Apple (technology).
  • Enable Increased Outsourcing of Service Sector Jobs: Trade provisions
    that guarantee companies the right to transfer data across borders — free
    from localization, taxation, technology transfer, privacy, liability and other
    regulatory requirements — make it easier for companies to relocate servicesector jobs around the globe to wherever is the most profitable and
    convenient for them. This often means outsourcing work from high-wage
    countries to lower-wage countries with ongoing labor rights abuses. Jobs
    affected include those in call centers, data processing, financial services,
    medical billing, logistics and more.
  • Conceal Discriminatory Practices: Trade provisions that prevent
    corporations from being forced to reveal their source codes and algorithms
    make tracking and safeguarding against biases in the methods increasingly
    used to sell goods and services extremely difficult. This high-tech red-lining
    can affect which individuals and communities are offered access to everything
    from home loans to education opportunities to job postings to medical
    treatments — as well as what rates different people pay for similar goods and
    services. As governments turn to private corporations for aid with “predictive
    policing” and similar surveillance, law enforcement and security functions, the
    inability of regulators, academics, civil society and the public to access and
    review the underlying technology further shelters oppressive practices from
    scrutiny, criticism and dismantling.
  • Undermine Consumer Privacy and Evade Liability: Trade provisions that
    allow for cross-border data transfers make it easier for companies to evade
    local consumer privacy rights, an increasingly serious issue that affects not
    only things like individuals’ addresses, social security numbers and online
    passwords, but also their personal finances, medical and genetic information,
    Internet browser histories and more. The ability to store such data anywhere
    across the globe, free from regulation, would also help companies evade legal
    liability for potential security breaches.
  • Delay Climate Solutions and Equitable Development: Corporations
    likewise want trade agreements to ban forced technology transfer, which
    could slow the deployment of tools needed to combat and mitigate the climate
    crisis and to promote equitable development both within and between nations.
    Digital trade rules are currently under negotiation within the United Kingdom-U.S.
    Free Trade Agreement, the Kenya-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and the World
    Trade Organization.

For more information, see: 

“E-Commerce: Free Trade Agreements, Digital Chapters and the Impact on  Labour,” International Trade Union Confederation, April 2020. 

“Opening Spaces for Digital Rights Activism: Multilateral Trade Negotiations,” Public Citizen, January 2019. 

“Digital Trade Rules: A disastrous new constitution for the digital economy  written by and for Big Tech,” Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, July 2020. 

“Dirty Data, Bad Predictions: How Civil Rights Violations Impact Police Data,  Predictive Policing Systems, and Justice,” NYU Law Review, May 2019.

Trade Justice Education Fund’s Briefing on Digital Trade Rules

Washington Fair Trade Coalition’s Digital Trade Briefing on Racial Justice and Job Outsourcing

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