Global services industries urge WTO talks to end data protectionism

Press release
09 May 2022

Global representatives of services industries have joined together to urge governments around the world to reach agreement on the future of digital trade, setting out clear and fair rules for e-commerce and the free movement of data across borders.

In a joint letter to the World Trade Organization (WTO) Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Global Services Coalition, which brings together 25 representative services alliances from around the world, called for a halt to the rising tide of services and digital trade barriers, setting out a list of 18 key issues to address, including: prohibiting customs duties on e-transmissions, enabling cross-border data flows, and preventing forced technology transfers.

Digital trade is essential for running a global financial or professional services business, making operations more efficient, and seizing new growth opportunities. But in the decade leading up to 2019, restrictions on digital trade doubled. The rise of data protectionism is making it increasingly difficult to run a global business, which is why the ongoing negotiations on digital trade at the WTO are so important. We have seen good progress in recent talks, but this needs to go further and be even more ambitious.

John Cooke, Co-Chair, Liberalisation of Trade in Services Expert Advisory Group, TheCityUK

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimates that cross-border data transfers already contribute US$2.8 trillion to the global economy. Global trade in services, which is the fastest-growing component of international trade, now depends on cross-border data flows. The share of digital services in total global trade in services now stands at over 60%.

Since the start of the global pandemic, barriers to services and digital trade and investment have been increasing. These barriers disadvantage not only services sectors and all those who work in them, but also manufacturing workers and those employed by small and medium-sized firms. The OECD found that the services regulatory environment, particularly for foreign investment, continued to become more restrictive in 2020 and the pace of tightening accelerated. According to the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, the number of countries that have enacted data localization requirements has nearly doubled from 35 in 2017 to 62 in 2021.

Download and read the Global Services Coalition letter in full.