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Advances in Mapping Digital Policies
16 Jun 2021

On 16 June 2021, the Centre for Multilateralism Studies hosted a RSIS Webinar Series on Multilateralism Studies titled “Advances in Mapping Digital Policies”. The panellists deliberated on how the rapid expansion of digital trade, boosted significantly by the COVID-19 pandemic, has produced calls for new taxes and regulations, and highlighted the need to develop an international governance framework.

Professor Simon J. Evenett, Professor of International Trade and Economic Development at the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland, noted that regulatory overdrive risks fragmenting digital ties between companies and economies. As the digital economy becomes ubiquitous, regulations are multiplying. Yet, there is no systematic inventory of policy. Prof Evenett highlighted that the demand of quality information is rising and emphasised potential risks from flawed policy choices compounded by non-transparency. He introduced the idea of an attributes-based approach to mapping digital trade policies, which seeks to avoid loaded terms like “digital trade barrier” and “best practice”.

Elaborating on digital policy development from a private sector perspective, Ms Eunice Huang, Head of APAC Trade Policy, Google, noted that as more sectors in the economy get digitised, governments put more digital regulatory policies in place. Google has spent considerable time and resources just to track and implement the policies that are in place, and to make sure Google is in compliance with them. Ms Huang pointed out that compliance to digital regulations may be an obstacle to small businesses. She highlighted the risks of digital fragmentation and protectionism, noting that when governments try to impose digital borders and regulations on the internet, it becomes challenging to solve important public policy challenges like climate change and vaccine development.

The webinar concluded with Dr Patrick Low, Fellow, Asia Global Institute, Hong Kong, noting that it has been extremely challenging thus far to get the necessary specificity, actionability, and enforcement in international agreements to help regulate the digital economy across nations. He commented on Prof Evenett’s attributes-based approach to mapping digital trade policies, highlighting the need to develop the concept of attributes in order to include attribution-oriented language into trade agreements.

Catch it here on the RSISVideoCast YouTube channel:

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