Turbulence and disappointment. Two words that surface in conversation about last year’s global trade policy. Not suprisingly, when we witnessed the WTO Ministerial Conference end with poor results alongside the freezing of large international trade initiatives such as the Trade in Services Agreement and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Likewise, we’ve seen more political effort going into building barriers, and enforcing localization and isolation measures than to building bridges and integrating the global economy. As if this wasn’t enough, there are also examples of countries not respecting their existing international trade commitments.
At the same time, the world is becoming more connected than ever, and the connected world needs more openness and fair rules on trade. The irony is not lost on our industry: telecommunications infrastructure and ICT investments serve as drivers for economic growth. They provide access to education, mobility, entrepreneurship, health services and much more. Technological developments and access to the open internet are playing an increasingly important role in enabling and ensuring the fulfilment and full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Just consider thepositive impact on freedom of expression, access to information, the right to privacy and freedom of assembly and association across the world. ICTs have been instrumental in helping people organise social movements in various countries.
What the world needs is facilitation of trade in the ICT field, and openness so that connectivity can reach all corners of the world. And it must be timely and accessible in order to support local digital transformation, local businesses and empower societies individually and collectively.
So let’s make some important New Year’s resolutions together:
Let’s preserve the WTO’s international trade regime WTO
Why? Because we can resort to Bilateral Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), if global agreements falter. They foster incremental trade liberalization and can help in bilateral disputes, but even a grid of FTAs can’t replace a global solution, because supply chains are global and complex.
Let’s promote the digital trade agenda
Digital trade can and must be reflected in international trade agreements. For example, when the EU negotiates bilateral FTAs (with Mercosur, Mexico, Japan), THAT is the right moment to include digital trade provisions – otherwise the agreements become obsolete even before they enter into force.
Let’s cherish what we achieved in the past
The Information Technology Agreement (ITA) abolished tariffs on core telecom equipment in the participating countries. It is now of utmost importance to ensure appropriate implementation of the agreement and further promote the ITA regime to non-participating countries.
Let’s foster international digital cooperation in policy development
This will help achieve common understanding between the governments before differences in policy approaches escalate to trade barriers. For example, mandatory data localization would severely hamper citizens’ ability to benefit from societal innovations enabled by value chains that are increasingly global.
Let’s have international focus on cybersecurity
Across the world, governments are developing cybersecurity policies. Unfortunately, in some cases they may discriminate against foreign technology. To avoid unnecessary adverse effects on international trade, governments should adopt measures proportionate to the risks and as nonrestrictive as possible. Bilateral and multilateral cooperation and trust building initiatives should help distinguish activities that genuinely support national security from those oriented at promotion of national players at the expense of fair competition. Beyond its impact on trade, too rigid regulation may limit the capacity of companies to respond to rapidly evolving threats.
Let’s improve technical regulatory cooperation between countries
The digital industry needs common standards. Technical barriers can pose great difficulties and decrease availability of tech goods on local markets. Conformity assessment is necessary for protection of health, safety and the environment, but policymakers should utilize schemes that do not pose unnecessary trade restrictions. Let’s not create national standards where global standards exist, or require duplicative testing.
Let’s have global trade that’s inclusive
By inclusive, I mean trade that contributes to the sustainable growth of economies around the world and that allows the digital economy to grow at the global level.
Let’s make trade free – and fair – again.
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