Center hosts Hill forum on Trade Promotion Authority and data flows

Posted by on January 28th, 2014, 7:27 pm

On January 23rd, the Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy hosted a Georgetown on the Hill event entitled “Trade Promotion Authority and Data Flows: Securing an Open Global Environment for Internet Based Trade” in the Rayburn House Office Building.  Led by CBPP Senior Industry Fellow Bob Vastine, the panel included: J. Bradford Jensen, Senior Policy Scholar, Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy; Laura Lane, President, Global Public Affairs, UPS; Brian Bieron, Executive Director, eBay Inc. Public Policy Lab; and Joshua Meltzer, Fellow, Global Economy and Development, Brookings Institute. The panel addressed the potential effects a new Trade Promotion Authority will have on global digital commerce and trade agreements including the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Brad Jensen kicked off the panel by explaining that even as the impact of data flows in global trade continues to expand, it is difficult to obtain clear numbers on the amount of global data flows and the full impact they are having on the global economy, either from the government or the private sector. In lieu of big numbers, there are many areas that provide information on digital commerce.  For example, online marketplaces like eBay, iTunes, and Amazon are expanding in a variety of areas, and many forms of media are increasingly being purchased in non-physical forms. 60% of music, 40% of video games, and 30% of movies are now sold digitally. Jensen cautioned that even with these major changes, recent research suggests that many large firms are lagging behind general trends. The business service sector is 25% of the US economy, with only 4% of US service firms exporting and also only 4% of business service output is exported.

Laura Lane emphasized the advantages the new Trade Promotion Authority will provide in strengthening the ability of presidents to negotiate new trade treaties. Lane also discussed how crucial data is to operations for a company like UPS, and that in international shipping data precedes and follows every packaged shipped. Beginning with advanced notice to customs agents in a country, data follows a package through delivery and afterwards, to a post-delivery checkup. Beyond international shipping, Lane also discussed how crucial data flows are to media and entertainment companies not only for transmitting finished works but also for international collaborations during the making of movies and television shows.

Brian Bieron highlighted the importance of the upcoming TPA agreement as the first truly internet focused agreement. He mentioned the impact that global trade has on the 500,000 small businesses and entrepreneurs who use eBay services. Small businesses that use these services become global businesses almost automatically as a result of the quick evolution of international commerce.  97% of these small entrepreneurs export internationally, and ship to an average of over 25 countries a year. These statistics are not unique to a specific region; they are true for businesses across the globe. He closed by emphasizing how a new TPA can benefit the United States not just economically, but socially and politically by expanding markets.

Joshua Meltzer ended the panel by discussing the challenges that are often thrown up by governments around data flows.  Many countries voice concerns around citizens’ data privacy, protection of intellectual property, and explicit content crossing borders. He also noted clear political concerns with direct censorship in nations like Iran and China.  Meltzer also highlighted the potential roadblocks from new security laws worldwide, including proposed data localization laws in Brazil that would require all citizen data be kept in data centers within that country. If passed this would have a major effect on how global companies do business.

Following the panel, Bob Vastine moderated a lively Q&A which spurred additional discussion around the new security environment for data, and how businesses pursue a balance in collecting and protecting data. Bierson emphasized that for a company like eBay more data leads directly to new services and users continue to show interest in new data-heavy services. Vastine also touched on the concerns of civil liberties advocates and the importance of any new TPA agreement striking the proper balance.

Video of the event can be found here.

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