Digital Trade at the WTO: The CPTPP and CUSMA Pose Challenges to Canadian Data Regulation

CIGI Paper No. 227

October 9, 2019

On the margins of the Group of Twenty leaders’ meeting in Osaka, Japan on June 28-29, 2019, Canada and 23 others signed the Osaka Declaration on the Digital Economy. This declaration launched the “Osaka Track,” which reinforces the signatories’ commitment to the World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations on “trade-related aspects of electronic commerce.” In this context, unlike its main economic partners (China, the European Union and the United States), Canada has yet to decide its position. The purpose of this paper is thus to help Canada define its position in those negotiations. To do so, it offers a detailed analysis of the e-commerce/digital trade chapters found in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA), the North American Free Trade Agreement’s replacement, in order to identify the potential constraints that these agreements could impose on the federal government’s ability to regulate data nationally as it seeks to establish a trusting digital environment for consumers and businesses. The analysis leads to the conclusion that Canada’s CPTPP and CUSMA commitments could ultimately negate the effectiveness of future data protection policies that the federal government might want to adopt to create trust in the data-driven economy. As a result, Canada should not follow the United States’ position in the WTO negotiations. Instead, the best thing that Canada could do is to push for a distinct international regime (i.e., separate from the WTO) to govern data and its cross-border flows.

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CIGI Papers present in-depth analysis and discussion on governance-related subjects. They include policy papers that present CIGI experts' positions or contributions to policy debates, and background papers that contain research findings, insights and data that contribute to the development of policy positions.

About the Author

Patrick Leblond is a CIGI senior fellow and an expert on economic governance and policy. He is an associate professor and holder of the CN-Paul M. Tellier Chair on Business and Public Policy at the University of Ottawa.