Digital Trade: Is Data Treaty-Ready?

CIGI Paper No. 162

February 21, 2018

The knowledge-based and data-driven economy represents a new stage in the evolution of the economy, with transformative impacts on how goods and services are developed, produced, traded across borders, distributed and consumed. Data is the essential capital of this new economic age, as it enables the development of artificial intelligence, which drives the transformation of how technology transforms. The powerful network externalities and steep economies of scale and scope that characterize this new economic age raise economic governance concerns in terms of income distribution, corporate concentration and the ability of countries to participate and capture benefits. Meanwhile, the power implicit in access to and control of data raises a plethora of concerns over personal privacy, social manipulation, influence over elections and security. Since cross-border data flows are integral to international trade, trade agreements are entering into the regulation of data. However, as the world is only at the dawn of this new era, a legitimate question is whether the regulation of data is treaty-ready and what sorts of flexibilities need to be retained to enable appropriate policy responses as necessary. This paper argues that data is not treaty-ready and draws the conclusion that Canada, which has much at stake in claiming a role in the data-driven economy, should be cautious about entering into international commitments, the implications of which are as yet unclear.

About the Author

Dan Ciuriak is a senior fellow at CIGI, where he is exploring the interface between Canada’s domestic innovation and international trade and investment. He is the director and principal of Ciuriak Consulting, Inc.