The Turn to Trade Agreements in Global Digital Governance


Digital cross-border data flows are becoming one of the fastest growing components of global trade. For this reason, issues that potentially have a constraining or enhancing effect on digital data flows are increasingly addressed in bilateral or multilateral trade negotiations. These trade agreements appear to also have implications for national governments that are increasingly seeking to craft regulation designed to address a host of perceived democratic externalities posed by dominant technology firms.

This project explores the question of whether trade agreements are contributing to a growing fragmentation of the internet governance environment, and the increasing implementation of specific national legal regimes to govern user behaviour and digital platforms. The roots of potential fracturing within internet governance policy can already be seen today; with both democratic and authoritarian state actors vying for certain legislation that protect their interests. The implications of these varying policy perspectives extend from affecting individual civil liberties to international markets.

In light of the high relevance of trade negotiations for digital policy issues, it is nevertheless surprising that, by today, the turn to trade agreements in global digital governance has not attracted much scholarly attention, with a few exceptions. This project is the first step by the WZB to take a closer look at defining and characterizing the existing dominant ideologies at play in digital trade negotiations and to further investigate the actors involved in these multi-faceted issues. As this is a relatively unexplored area this project hopes to lay the groundwork for further research and develop lines of questioning about how states are using new strategies in order to pursue their preferences for how to govern the digital ecosystem.

Contact: Dr. Julia Pohle