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
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