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USTR Creates Working Group to Help Combat Barriers to Digital Trade

U.S. Trade Representative Mike Froman announced on 18 July the creation of a Digital Trade Working Group within USTR that will be “an important resource to help the United States maintain its ‘digital trade surplus’ and allow companies and workers in every sector of the U.S. economy to use the Internet to deliver innovative, American-made products and services abroad.” The working group will be led by Robert Holleyman and composed of USTR staff with expertise in e-commerce, telecommunications, services, intellectual property, innovation and industrial competitiveness.

The working group will serve as a rapid response team to identify and combat barriers to digital trade and promote sound policies to advance digital trade around the world. It will closely examine barriers to cloud computing, platform services and trade in digital products. It will also co-ordinate the negotiation and implementation of digital trade provisions bi-laterally and across on-going and completed negotiations, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Trade in Services Agreement. The working group will also develop strategies for engagement in multi-lateral fora, including the WTO, APEC, G-20 and G-7, to support both an expansion of digital trade and the adoption of the existing array of U.S. digital trade-promoting rules more broadly.

The creation of the new working group came on the heels of a House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee hearing on expanding U.S. digital trade and eliminating barriers to U.S. digital exports. The hearing highlighted how high-standard and ambitious digital trade provisions in U.S. trade agreements can, if thoroughly implemented and fully enforced, open markets to U.S. exports and benefit U.S. businesses of all sizes that rely on digital trade. It focused on U.S. successes as the world’s leading digital exporter, including job creation and economic growth, foreign trade barriers faced by U.S. digital exports, and how current and future trade agreements and other efforts can reduce those barriers.

Trade Subcommittee Chairman Dave Reichert (Republican-Washington) highlighted the benefits of digital trade for both high-tech and traditional companies in a broad range of industries, including manufacturers, retailers and service providers, observing that these companies “depend on digital platforms to export goods and services.” He also spoke of the importance of digital trade for small businesses, particularly through their use of e-commerce websites, search engines and payment systems.

A Ways and Means Committee press release indicates that members agreed that trade agreements, including TPP, play a key role in breaking down foreign barriers to trade in U.S. goods and services. Reichert highlighted the commitments included in TPP to “ensure the free flow of global information and data at the heart of the digital economy” and prohibit data localisation measures. While the Washington lawmaker expressed disappointment about the exclusion of financial services from the TPP localisation requirements, he welcomed the efforts of the Obama administration to work constructively to address this issue.

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