New Zealand has joined a breakaway group of around 70 countries who affirmed their intention to launch plurilateral negotiations on electronic commerce at the World Trade Organization (WTO), despite the last WTO ministerial conference refusing to give them a mandate.
The declaration was issued on the side-lines of the elite World Economic Forum meeting in Davos on Friday.
The new e-commerce template first appeared in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) and remains unaltered in the revised CPTPP. It literally codifies a wish-list of rules written by the US Big Tech industry – the likes of Google, Amazon, facebook and Apple (GAFA) – to protect them from regulation. The EU’s proposal for the EU New Zealand free trade deal mirrors the TPPA, aside from more protection for privacy.
Documents I’ve obtained under the Official Information Act, although heavily redacted, show our government really has no idea of the implications.
Despite the label ‘electronic commerce’ or ‘digital trade’ these rules are not simply about trade. They restrict governments’ ability to regulate data, source codes and algorithms, digital networks and platforms, online marketplaces, payment systems, etc.
The International Trade Union Congress, to which the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions is an affiliate, points out this is as much about workers’ rights, as it is about trade:
“Algorithmic bias, workplace surveillance, electronic union blacklisting are realities and workers need their governments to protect them. We must not allow for a future in which working people’s ability to hold the giants of the digital economy accountable is limited by trade agreements. Our governments must have full power to regulate.”
The move was also condemned by civil society groups internationally, who warn that
“threats to economic sovereignty … will be greatly amplified if the rapidly evolving digital economic space is governed by rules that were developed by transnational corporations (TNCs) for their own profit-making around the world… .”
Given the turbulence engulfing the digital domain, from tax evasion and abuse of monopolies to unfair labour practices and political interference in democratic elections, the last thing we need is a set of global rules that prevent governments from regulating Big Tech’s activities in New Zealand and globally.