I have seen the future of international trade, and it is called DEPA, the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement. With this trade agreement, New Zealand, Chile, and Singapore have crafted a new approach to trade policymaking focused on rules to govern cross-border data flows, facilitate data-driven economic growth, and increase online trust. In December, Canada announced it would seek to join DEPA. The U.S. should too.
DEPA is pathbreaking for several reasons. First, the participants see their relationship as a partnership; they pledge to build a digital economy that supports innovation and builds trust in their own countries and globally. Second, they drafted the agreement to demonstrate the benefits of collaboration at a time when many economies are choosing to go it alone or bilaterally because of Covid-19. The agreement includes provisions designed to spur cooperation on emerging issues such as a shared approach to competition policy, which all nations may need as they seek to regulate giant data firms such as Alibaba, Google, and Facebook. These firms not only hold much of the world’s personal data, but they have annual revenues larger than many governments. With that market clout, they can bully nations that seek to regulate them—just ask Australia.
Third, the partners crafted a new approach to international trade negotiations by designing it to be easier for other nations to join all or part of the agreement. Like-minded nations that want to join DEPA do not have to acquiesce to the entire agreement. Instead, DEPA is an assortment of modules: Any interested nation can pick and choose the modules they want to agree to.
Fourth, in contrast with other recent digital trade agreements, DEPA nations recognized that there is no digital economy without the trust of internet users. Thus, DEPA includes two modules designed to build trust, including language to regulate spam and protect personal data.