Google’s 21st-Century Internet Trade Agenda
This Google published an extremely useful and interesting white paper on the 21st-century Internet trade agenda. The basic argument is that the Internet will never reach its full potential if governments continue to impose restrictions on the free flow of information.
The statistics included in the report are amazing. Online traffic has increased by 66 percent in the past five years and one quarter of the world’s population (1.7 billion people) use the Internet. Annual Internet-based commerce soon will reach $1 trillion. Internet and telecom services contributed 3.3 percent of global GDP in 2004, compared with 1.8 percent in 1990.
Yet despite this growth, governments are increasingly aggressive in regulating the Internet. They do so through technology, licensing, legal orders, and self-censorship. Forty governments have instituted broad-scale restrictions of information flow on the Internet. As a result, the trade ports of the 21st-century are routinely blocked.
Such restrictions should be challenged through existing and new trade rules. Google argues that the existing WTO service rules require governments to (1) provide transparency; (2) provide judicial and independent review of administrative decisions; (3) objectively and impartially administer rules; and (4) provide non-discriminatory treatment. The document includes numerous references to key WTO rules and decisions in support of these objectives.
Going forward, Google argues that governments must (1) close gaps in the existing WTO framework in order to ensure GATS disciplines apply to all Internet trade and (2) negotiate new rules that reflect today’s information economy in multilateral and bilateral trade agreements. The objectives for the future trade agenda would be to advance the unrestricted flow of information on the Internet, promote even stronger transparency rules, and ensure that Internet services can be provided without local investment.
It’s almost impossible to understate the importance that the Internet will have for international trade in coming decades. Yet we have a WTO regime that was established when the Internet was in its infancy. Google’s suggestions for a more robust regulatory regime of Internet trade is most welcome and deserves serious consideration.