The Digital Transformation and the Transformation of International Trade

By Dan Ciuriak, Maria Ptashkina, 
January 2018
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The digital transformation has facilitated old modes of trade and business models and enabled the creation of entirely new ones. Digital disruption is being felt across all modes of trade: digital versions of products or services compete with physically embodied versions; and digital distribution/facilitation business models compete with traditional distribution business models. Net neutrality, digital market access, data localisation and freedom of cross-border data flows, privacy, and conditions of competition are just a few of the regulatory issues raised as the digital transformation changes the way international trade is conducted. To facilitate the analysis of the role that trade agreements play or might play, this paper suggests a classification of the modes in which trade is conducted as it progressively shifts into the digital or digitally facilitated realm. It also identifies the areas where resistance has been encountered, categorises the nature of the measures that have been introduced, and reviews the approaches taken by the major digital economy players in framing regulations for digital and digitally enabled trade in the regional trade agreements in which they are engaged. Against this background, the authors draw conclusions for the prospects of a multilateral agreement to set out the rules of the road to enable inclusive growth in the knowledge-based and data-driven economy that the digital transformation is bringing into being.

The RTA Exchange, jointly implemented by the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), is a platform that convenes purposeful multi-stakeholder dialogues that work in the interest of constructing better trade and investment agreements for sustainable development at the regional and multilateral levels.

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