In Letter to President, 53 Labor, Civil Rights, Consumer & Other Organizations Warn About Harmful Provisions in “Digital Trade” Pacts

Big Tech’s Trojan Horse Strategy to Undermine Government Oversight, Anti-Trust Accountability Exposed Ahead of APEC Summit

November 2, 2021

Washington, D.C. — In a joint letter to President Biden ahead of next week’s Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, more than fifty national organizations representing labor, civil rights, consumer and other constituencies warned today about harmful “Trojan Horse” provisions in so-called “digital trade” agreements the United States is being encouraged to join.  The groups counseled against binding international rules that “limit governments worldwide from regulating online platforms in the interest of workers, consumers or smaller business competitors,” and noted such terms could potentially undermine key parts of the Biden administration’s economic and racial justice agenda. 

“We’ve been down this road of corporations rigging so-called trade agreements before. This time it’s Big Tech trying to use trade agreements as a back-door way to handcuff governments from regulating their abusive practices to the detriment of workers, consumers and communities of color,” said Arthur Stamoulis, executive director of the Trade Justice Education Fund, which organized the letter.  “Slapping a ‘digital’ label on these pacts doesn’t making them cutting edge, nor does it change the fact that they prioritize a narrow set of corporate interests over the interests of workers and consumers.”

The letter was signed by Citizens Trade Campaign, Color of Change, Communications Workers of America (CWA), Consumer Federation of America, Council on American-Islamic Relation, Demos, Jobs with Justice, National Organization of Consumer Advocates, National Organization for Women, Public Citizen, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), UNITE HERE, United Steelworkers, U.S. Human Rights Network, U.S. PIRG and dozens of other organizations. 

The groups warned that terms of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), the Digital Economic Partnership Agreement (DEPA) and the World Trade Organization’s (WTO’s) Joint Statement Initiative on “E-Commerce” contain provisions contrary to the President’s interest in “developing new, people-centered trade policies and agreements that advance worker rights, racial equity and consumer safeguards.”

“At a time when the United States and the world are grappling with how to best regulate Big Tech in areas as disparate as gig economy worker protections, discrimination and algorithm transparency, competition policy and anti-trust, corporate liability, and consumer privacy, we must not establish ‘trade’ rules that restrict or dissuade countries from regulating digital entities or that impose or lock in retrograde domestic digital governance policies,” the groups wrote.

The letter specifically called out digital trade proposals for prioritizing corporate interests ahead of labor rights and the protection of gig economy workers; for hiding the discriminatory effects of source codes and algorithms via “trade secrets” protections; for undermining consumer privacy and data security by prohibiting limits on data flows and rules on the location of computing facilities; for shielding firms from corporate accountability via overly broad liability waivers; and for protecting monopolies and promoting further consolidation by banning certain pro-competition policies. 

A full copy of the letter and list of signers is available online at: https://tradejusticeedfundorg.files.wordpress.com/2021/11/digitaltradeletter_final_110221-1.pdf 

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The Trade Justice Education Fund explores how emerging issues in trade policy affect workers, consumers, civil rights and the environment.

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