Civil society organizations present letter to member governments:

Proposed WTO digital trade rules are contrary to development needs

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More than 300 civil society organizations from some 90 countries have addressed, today, April 1, a letter to WTO members expressing “profound and urgent opposition” to the proposal to open negotiations for a binding agreement on digital trade (also referred to as “e-commerce”), because they “could result in the full liberalization of the entire (digital) economy, and thus represent back door attempt to achieve a ‘WTO 2.0’.”


The proposal to open negotiations was rejected by a majority of developing countries, at the last WTO ministerial meeting, (Buenos Aires, December 2017), but some 70 countries agreed to continue discussions informally and, if they agree on a set of basic proposals, they are likely to return in force to attempt to put the issue on the agenda for the next Ministerial meeting at the end of this year.


The signatories of the letter underline that “having binding rules on the still-emerging digital economy would severely constrain the ability of countries to develop their economies in the future” and accelerate the global disadvantaging of workers and small enterprises in all countries vis-à-vis large corporations. They also argue that it would enable Big Tech to consolidate its exploitative business model, by gaining rights to extract and control personal, social, and business data around the world, lock-in deregulation and evade future regulation, while evading taxes, among other aspects.


The proposed rules thus “represent a grave threat to development, human rights, labor, and shared prosperity around the world, and are the opposite of the policies needed to rein in the power of Big Tech”, the letter emphasizes.


The document explains these threats in relation to the following issues, while also mentioning the kind of policies they consider are needed, precisely to promote development, human rights and shared prosperity (policies that, in most cases, do not come under the jurisdiction of the WTO):


- The need for appropriate democratic governance vs. unlimited power over data by Big Tech.

- Public interest data policies as being essential for economic development and prosperity in all countries.

- Strong consumer protections, privacy, and rights, that would be jeopardized by “E-commerce” rules

- Digital policies that promote decent jobs for shared prosperity, instead of reducing workers’ power.

- The urgent need for anti-monopoly regulations and actions, in jurisdictions outside of the WTO.

- Digital liberalization would decimate development and increase poverty in developing countries.

- The urgent need for digital industrialization so as to foster development and MSMEs.

- Fairer taxation, which would be severely constrained by proposed e-commerce rules in the WTO.

- The need for policies to promote innovation, small businesses, and security, vs. increased patent monopolies

- Countries need policy space, whereas the e-commerce agenda is promoting harmful total liberalization.

- A new agenda for digital economic policies, and for the global economy.



The full document is below:
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