A Worker Centric Digital Trade Agenda



Dr. Orit Frenkel and Rebecca Karnak | American Leadership Initiative

Digital technologies have created millions of new jobs and have been a lifeline for many small businesses and individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, new technologies have given rise to many new challenges for workers and other online users. This paper explores how to address these challenges through a worker-centric digital governance agenda.

The time is ripe for the U.S. to negotiate or join a digital trade agreement. As the American Leadership Initiative has written, the U.S. must seize this opportunity to set global internet standards of openness, transparency, and democracy, as opposed to China’s increasingly influential vision of an autocratic internet that facilitates state control, censorship, and surveillance. China’s growing technology leadership and autocratic internet standards ultimately undermine our national interests, including democracy itself. Developing new global internet standards is also an important step to achieving other goals: strengthening America’s economy and national security; addressing the growing role of digital technologies throughout the economy and working with our allies to provide open markets and interoperable regulations for the growing number of workers and small businesses who use digital technologies.

The Administration has pledged to reject business as usual in the trade sphere, stating that new trade policies and agreements must be “worker-centric.” While this term is often used to describe more robust labor protections and provisions, it is part of a larger initiative to develop new trade policies that have not only expanded worker provisions, but also stronger environmental protections, stricter provisions regarding state-owned enterprises and subsidies, and other policies that will allow the balance of benefits from trade agreements to accrue more to workers and less to large corporations.

New digital policies can be crafted to fit into this “worker-centric” framework – policies that will address workers’ needs in a shifting economy, whether as part of a standalone agreement or part of a larger bilateral or plurilateral agreement.


To read the full report from the American Leadership Initiative, please click here.