Trade agreements and the internet

8 Dec 2016 17:30h - 19:00h

Event report

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

The host country chair opened the session by welcoming the participants to Mexico and acknowledging the importance of having a multistakeholder conversation on topics like trade and agreements. The moderator, Ms Emily Taylor, Associate Fellow, Chatham House, and Editor, Journal of Cyber Policy, opened the session by commenting on the general tendency of trade agreements to be closed and secretive.

Ms Marcela Paiva Véliz, Trade Expert, Lawyer, and Counsellor, Permanent Mission of Chile to the WTO, spoke in her personal capacity, explaining the initial concepts of Internet, free trade, and negotiations in general. She added that the Internet is a tool with multiple stakeholders having different views of what it can do. Regarding free trade she underlined the concept of trust as being key to keeping the negotiations running.

Mr Juan Antonio Dorantes Sánchez, Partner, Aguilar and Loera, explained how governments have created a system to deal with the concerns of the private sector to address the impact of trade. He added that trade negotiators will consult the private sector, and negotiate their corresponding national positions. He noted that the issue of secretive trade negotiations has created a challenging situation. However, he stated that the criticisms have been unfair since the TPP and ACTA deals were positive developments where governments negotiated with clear positions.

Ms Burcu Kilic, Legal and Policy Director, Public Citizen Global Access to Medicine Programme, criticized the negotiations of trade agreements for being secretive. Sánchez commented that governments are moving forward and are more willing to include views from civil society. Mr Jeremy Malcolm, International Team, EFF, highlighted the Brussels Declaration on Trade as a reference for future negotiations, and added that following a similar path might save future negotiations from collapsing.

Mr David Snead, General Counsel, cPanel, argued that for the trade agreement process to be successful, multiple effective opportunities for different voices to give input into the trade agreement process should be facilitated. He added that trade systems are set up to address business concerns, and they have been heavily institutionalized.

Mr Joseph Alhadeff, Vice President for Public Policy, Oracle, observed that there are different layers to trade; first are the trade agreements, which are negotiated texts on tariffs, labour etc. Second, the process related to an agreement, and third, the outcome of the process. He observed that in discussions on trade, all of these topics are lumped together, giving the entire process a bad reputation. He argued for the need to separate the three, and look at the cause of concerns to address each of them effectively.

Véliz added that government negotiations in every field have always been secretive but that doesn’t make them evil. She added that the involvement of civil society is changing the scene and that countries have created ways to listen to, and include their inputs.

Ms Marietje Schaake, Member, European Parliament, intervened using online participation, and added that trade rules should be used to strengthen human rights around the world. He called on the EU to lead the trade negotiations and to uphold human rights values.

Malcolm agreed on the potential of trade agreements, however, he pointed to certain trade agreements with points that need to be changed.  The panel then debated the idea of including multistakeholder voices in the process, and the need for trust and accountability to establish this process. While the panellists agreed on the notion of free trade and its benefits, the general sense was that the lack of reforms in trade negotiations needs to be addressed. 

by Krishna Kumar, Internet Society