Big data is challenging global trade law

Trade agreements must adapt to the new requirements that cross-border data flows imply. How are they doing it? How should they do it?

Big data is considered the new driving force of the 21st century. At the same time, the functionality of many new digital innovations, such as the use of apps, the streaming of music or the sharing of content in the cloud, depends on cross-border data flows. The digital economy and data flows are placing free trade law and global trade policy under pressure to find solutions as to how all this is to work. This is compounded by the fact that the use of data, and big data in particular, raises many other questions for legislators and policymakers. These include the handling of personal data in keeping with the provisions of data protection law, but also national security. Moreover, complex questions arise regarding various issues such as territoriality, sovereignty and the scope of activities of private companies such as Facebook or Google.

The NRP 75 project "The Governance of Big Data in Trade Agreements" by PD Dr. Mira Burri and her research team at the University of Lucerne and the University of Bern explores precisely these issues. The project entails identifying the existing regulations that are relevant for big data applications and for big data policy in international, regional and bilateral trade agreements, as well as carrying out a normative study as to whether and how trade agreements should deal with data and big data issues in order to sustainably reflect the changes in the digital economy.

The initial findings of the project were presented at the "Big Data and Global Trade Law" conference on 16 and 17 November. Additionally, international experts presented their specialist knowledge. From Mira Burri's point of view, the conference was successful "because it offered a great platform for scientific exchange and dialogue with stakeholders". In the process, it became clear how complex and, at the same time, how important the subject of data regulation is. "Smart trade policy solutions are now needed which can eliminate digital trade barriers, while respecting fundamental rights such as the protection of privacy."