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Digital trade

Can trade agreements narrow the global data divide?

Published 25 January 2022

While the narrative of building an independent domestic digital economy sounds appealing, especially in the current geopolitical environment, most, if not all, developing countries would overcome the data divide more effectively by integrating meaningfully into the global digital supply chain through the use of trade agreements.

The Covid-19 pandemic has starkly illustrated the divide between developing and developed countries in the ever more valuable realm of data. The data divide between the developing and developed world is multi-dimensional, extending to economic, social, and political aspects of everyday life. This divide leads to the exclusion of developing countries from digital supply chains and creates excessive dependence on leading digital powers.

Can this global data divide be bridged? In this paper, Neha Mishra of The Australian National University suggests that international trade agreements, particularly electronic commerce/digital trade chapters and new generation agreements such as the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement (DEPA), can play a role in bridging this divide. Promoting data inclusion through inward-looking, protectionist measures are a growing trend in several parts of the world. However, Mishra argues that a far more holistic and meaningful approach would entail using digital trade agreements. The agreements can help to build trust through international regulatory cooperation, reduce barriers to digital trade, and create robust mechanisms for supporting developing countries to build their infrastructure for the data-driven economy.

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Neha Mishra

Neha Mishra is an Assistant Professor at Geneva Graduate Institute. She was previously a lecturer at the Australian National University College of Law and a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for International Law, National University of Singapore.

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