Taking a Byte Out of Trade

Europeans have reacted to accusations of US spying with revulsion. In today’s Financial Times, Chicago Council President Ivo Daalder explores the degree to which European leaders’ surprise might be disingenuous, but also whether governments should refrain from crossing certain lines as they inevitably gather intelligence.

The furor over allegations that the United States has tapped Spanish phones or listened in on German Chancellor Merkel’s cell conversations touches on trade in at least two ways. First, alleged US government actions threaten a rift between the United States and the European Union at a time when the two are supposed to be racing ahead with a trade agreement, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Second, the dispute over government actions can color discussions about privacy concerns when setting rules for the private sector.

As part of the upcoming conference on “Frontiers of Economic Integration,” we will have a breakout panel devoted to issues of data privacy and electronic commerce. On the question of whether the spat over spying will impede the negotiations, one of the panelists at Wednesday’s session, Hosuk Lee-Makiyama, this summer argued that it should not. Hosuk, director of the European Center for International Political Economy, wrote:

European bluster over NSA spying is unlikely to decide the fate of trans-Atlantic trade talks, which faced huge obstacles long before Edward Snowden started leaking security briefs. For those of us who work within the narrow circles around Brussels, the only real surprise is that someone would actually bother to eavesdrop on us when every journalist and embassy intern seems to have access to the EU’s own ‘classified’ documents.

Hosuk also cautioned last month against letting the reaction to revelations serve as an excuse to block data flows.

Both Hosuk and fellow panelist Stephen Ezell have addressed broader questions about digital trade in the US and global economy in testimony before the US International Trade Commission (here and here). Stephen, a senior analyst with the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF), has also co-authored a report on “How to Craft an Innovation Maximizing TTIP Agreement.”

There are a range of interesting policy and economic questions surrounding electronic commerce that did not necessarily arise back in the day, when countries just shipped manufactured goods in exchange for commodities. With such knowledgeable panelists – as they say these days – it should be interesting to listen in.

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