Digital Trade-Related Provisions in Regional Trade Agreements
On 13 July, ICTSD in partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) organised a dialogue on digital trade-related provisions in regional trade agreements (RTAs) under the RTA Exchange dialogue series aimed at systematically exploring possibilities for convergence and coherence-building between trade agreements at the regional and multilateral levels.
The Internet has revolutionised communication, information, and innovation, opening up new areas for economic growth, prospects for employment and opportunities for participation in global markets by individuals, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and businesses in developing countries. Many of the established regulatory frameworks for governing international trade and investment predate the Internet era, and are in need of updating to be supportive of the digital economy to meet its potential for inclusion and economic growth.
Rapidly evolving business models, a burgeoning Internet of Things, breakneck technological advancement, and constantly changing domestic regulatory frameworks in many countries, especially in terms of the treatment of data, make a multilateral agreement more complex and difficult to reach. In the post-Nairobi context, digital trade and e-commerce have been floated on various occasions as possible issues for discussion in the run-up to the Eleventh Ministerial Conference (MC11). The topic is however potentially very broad and so far, proponents have only started indicating specific areas where new disciplines could be devised in the WTO.
In the meantime, RTAs have continued to flourish and propagate alongside the multilateral trade system, developing new rules for digital trade and serving as laboratories for devising and testing innovative disciplines. As WTO members explore options to move forward a discussion on e-commerce in the WTO, such initiatives can provide valuable lessons and key precedents to build upon.
As a contribution to this debate, this dialogue convened leading experts, private sector representatives, practitioners, and policy-makers involved in the negotiations of RTAs, together with members of the Geneva trade policy community in a non-negotiating setting outside of the WTO, to discuss means to draw on the lessons learned in terms of best practices already tested and implemented in RTAs to inform next steps in the WTO ahead of MC11 and beyond.