Aligning multistakeholder norms and the digital trade agenda

6 Dec 2016 10:00h - 11:30h

Event report

[Read more session reports and live updates from the 11th Internet Governance Forum]

The workshop aimed to provide an understanding of differences that exist between Internet stakeholders and trade agreements. Moderated by Mr Jeremy Malcolm, Senior Global Policy Analyst, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), discussions focused on reducing the strange discord between traditional and new institutions. Malcolm opened the session with comments on the need to have a free and open process in trade negotiations, negotiations that have so far been multilateral. He added how the trade deals are used as a geopolitical tool by the US government to sideline China in particular, which is seen as a threat to the United States. He highlighted how lack of transparency, the withholding of information from the public, and functioning under a veil of secrecy, directly go against the fundamental principles that bind the Internet together.

Malcolm further criticised trade negotiators for their lack of diversity and expertise in handling technological and human rights issues. He had some words of appreciation for the way the EU has dealt with these trade negotiations, in taking steps to disclose EU text proposals and disclosure of consolidated text to all members of the European Parliament. He stressed the need to rethink the Internet and trade functions and suggested that civil society should be involved in the process.

Ms Burcu Kilic, Legal Counsel at Public Citizen, criticised the secrecy of the negotiations and raised doubts about the condition of trade deals in the post-Trump era. She commented that the current model is not sustainable and suggested that in planning a different model for the twenty-first century, multistakeholderism should be considered. Kilic offered a word of caution for civil society by highlighting the case of Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement  (ACTA) which was killed in the European Parliament but still came back with similar provisions in the form of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP);  even if the TPP goes away, she said, the next bilateral agreement will have the same provisions.

Ms Marcela Paiva Véliz, Counsellor, Permanent Mission of Chile, pointed out the difference of views in how the Internet is perceived by different people and stressed the need to have dialogue. Governments don’t view the process as lacking transparency and they are entitled to their views. She said that for both civil society and governments, democracy offers a strong basis to act, which is also addressed in the Brussels declaration. She concluded by  highlighting the steps the government of Chile has taken to include more civil society voices in the process.

Mr David Snead, General Counsel for cPanel, Internet Infrastructure Coalition, pointed out that the role of civil society is limited to no role at all in trade negotiations, essentially because of the secrecy clause that is required in negotiating them. This has pitted the business sector and civil societies directly against each other with opposing viewpoints, particularly with respect to the Internet and Internet governance. However, Snead said, both stakeholders share similar concerns with respect to privacy and privacy laws and data localisation. He presented other areas where there is an avenue for collaboration.

Ms Judith Hellerstein, Founder, Hellerstein & Associates, listed the ways civil society could integrate into the process. She stressed the need for stakeholders’ invaluable inputs into the process and noted that the participation of civil society depends on how much time they want to spend on an issue. She later added that civil society and other stakeholders can really take an active role in the process to make it better. Hellerstein presented the idea of publishing information as White Papers and discussing it with all the relevant stakeholders to create an inclusive forum.

While the panel had a difference of opinion on the inclusion of civil society in trade agreements, it agreed in general on the need for more dialogue and participation. The common rhetoric of painting a black-and-white picture should be avoided and ideas should be discussed to bridge the differences in opinion.

In his concluding remarks, Malcolm stressed the role of public and civic engagement to keep tab on government negotiations. He then invited more people to participate in the process.

by Krishna Kumar, Internet Society India – Chennai Chapter