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Rachel F. Fefer, Internet Regimes and WTO E-Commerce Negotiations (CRS Report R46198) (Jan. 28, 2020) (full-text).


National internet regimes, as defined by individual countries' domestic policies and rules, are growing more divergent, a trend that has significant implications for international trade and the future growth of U.S. and global digital economies. The evolving digital economy increases productivity and drives growth in the overall economy, but may be threatened by differences in national rules and potential fracturing of the global internet. Congress has an interest in ensuring the U.S. digital economy thrives and shapes the global rules and norms for digital trade.

While national rules-setting may focus on domestic priorities, policies that affect digitization in any one country's economy can have consequences beyond its borders. The internet is a global "network of networks," and the state of a country's digital economy can have global ramifications, such as affecting the security and efficacy of connected networks. Differences in the internet governance and data policies of the United States and some major trading partners, such as People's Republic of China (PRC or China) and the European Union (EU), are creating a growing set of trade barriers for U.S. firms seeking to do business abroad. Trade barriers include, for example, rules and regulations governing foreign investment, market and network access, e-commerce, and data collection and usage. The United States generally advocates a free and open internet, using standard-setting forums and other means of international cooperation to ensure non-discriminatory market access, advance common emerging technology standards, promote collaborative open-source architecture, and influence the internet regimes of trading partners balanced with other public policy objectives, including national security.

Trade agreement negotiations present an opportunity to remove trade barriers and establish common trade rules and disciplines to achieve U.S. negotiating objectives. Across the globe, U.S. and other bilateral and plurilateral agreements have created a plethora of overlapping and often inconsistent rules between various trading partners. The lack of multilateral rules on digital trade is a key focus of U.S. trade policy. Ongoing e-commerce negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO) provide a significant opportunity to establish enforceable multilateral rules that align with U.S. policy priorities and help bridge growing differences in national rules and trade treatments. However, such negotiations face inherent challenges, including possibly divergent, and even conflicting, positions.