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G20 Digital Economy Outcomes - Avoiding the Elephant in the Room

Since it first addressed information and communication technology issues in 2015 (see paragraph 26 in the 2015 Leaders Communiqué), the G20 forum has become a critically important setting for the world’s leading governments in developed and developing countries.

At this forum, the member countries have the opportunity to collaborate, outlining consensus approaches to addressing 21st century technology policy issues; combatting protectionism; achieving UN Sustainable Development Goals; and growing the global economy in ways that benefit all countries and people.

During their April meeting in Düsseldorf, the G20 Ministers responsible for digital economy issues issued a wide-ranging declaration, a G20 roadmap on digitalization, an annex on digital skills in vocational education and training, and an annex on G20 priorities on digital trade. We have a few baselines by which to make an assessment of the results: the 2016 G20 outcomes on digital economy and the recommended outcomes that ITI and our eleven association partners laid out in late February to G20 members.

At first glance, we can see that G20 members have in part touched on each of our eight recommended outcomes at various points throughout their documents. More generally it seems the G20 digital economy ministers:

  • Achieved consensus on the importance of skills and knowledge development to the digital economy;
  • Placed digital trade squarely on the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) agenda for its 11th Ministerial Meeting in Buenos Aires in December later this year, though without providing any detail on the scope of “digital trade”;
  • Relied on previously agreed language (as indicated by footnotes), where they could not move past existing consensus, such as on the free flow of information in paragraph 2, on the development and use of international standards consistent with WTO rules and principles in paragraph 24, and on applicable frameworks for privacy and data protection in paragraph 26; and
  • Avoided making any statement on problematic areas that may divide G20 members.

On this last point, the elephant in the room for ITI is the absence of language to avoid and eliminate restrictions on cross-border data flows, like data localization requirements. The significant increase in data localization requirements--the European Centre for International Political Economy, or ECIPE, reports over 80 such measures in force globally--will decrease the spread and effectiveness of digital technologies, make the internet less free and open across the world, and therefore will prevent G20 members from achieving the laudable objectives they identified in the digital economy declaration and in their 2016 commitments.

The tech industry and other business sectors have been clear in warning the G20 that the proliferation of forced localization measures, such as data localization requirements, is a trend that the world’s leading economies must combat if policymakers want to spur innovation, job creation, and economic growth.

Perhaps in recognition that some issues are better left to future discussion, the G20 digital economy ministers noted seven “to dos” for Argentina’s 2018 host year in the declaration and three annexes. This means that the G20 will continue its attempts to find consensus on critical digital issues requiring global solutions, such as ensuring the free flow of information across borders, while establishing high standards for data privacy and protection. We urge the government of Argentina, as the host of the 11th WTO Ministerial Conference in December and the G20 host in 2018, to make further progress on fully reflecting our recommendations in outcomes in these fora.

Throughout this year and next, ITI and our partner associations will work with governments and industries in Brazil, China, India and other G20 countries to generate consensus on the tough issues like avoiding restrictions on cross-border data flows, that if the G20 addresses, would produce an enormous benefit for a wide range of G20 objectives. ITI welcomes future opportunities to promote our recommended outcomes with G20 members in advance of the Leaders Meeting in Hamburg this July and hopes that the G20 can find a more ambitious level of consensus on these issues this year or in 2018.

Public Policy Tags: Forced Localization