Trade and the digital economy

How can governments harness the upsides and mitigate the downsides?

Research event, Roundtable Invitation only
21 November 2023 — 2:00PM TO 3:15PM
Chatham House and Online

Digitalisation is profoundly impacting international trade. Digital trade accounted for 25% of total trade in 2020 and continues to grow rapidly (OECD, 2023). The impact is most dramatic in services, with three-quarters of UK services exports delivered digitally (ONS, 2022).

Digital technologies and digital connectivity are reducing the costs of trade, while the rise of e-commerce platforms provides new opportunities for small businesses to trade internationally. Yet digitalisation also poses policy challenges, from managing cross-border data flows in ways that respect privacy, to ensuring that new technologies are effectively regulated, and addressing growing market concentration.

Governments are grappling with these challenges at a time of heightened geopolitical tension. Digital infrastructure and technologies, including frontier AI, are increasingly viewed as matters of national security and governments are using industrial and trade measures to enhance their digital technology capabilities. In October 2023, the US dropped its longstanding demands on digital trade at the WTO on the grounds they might hinder domestic regulation of big tech firms.

Against this background, questions for consideration at this hybrid roundtable will include:

  • How is digitalisation impacting trade flows?

  • Which sectors and countries are gaining most (and least)?

  • At a time of geopolitical tension and rising concerns of regulatory fragmentation, which aspects of digital trade cooperation should governments focus on?

  • What is the role for digital economy agreements and informal trade and technology councils?

  • How should governments weigh up and adjudicate between different digital trade policy objectives?

This discussion forms part of the event series under the Chatham House Global Trade Policy Forum.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank AIG (founding partner), Boston Consulting Group (associate partner) and Diageo plc (supporting partner) for their generous support of the Forum.

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