PSI Applauds US Decision to Stop Pushing Big Tech Trade Proposals

After years of campaigning by unions and Civil Society, the Biden Administration has withdrawn support for WTO trade proposals which would have further entrenched the power of major tech firms in the global economy and the public sector.

Referring to talks at the World Trade Organization (WTO) on digital trade/e-commerce, a US Trade Representative spokesman said:

“Many countries, including the United States, are examining their approaches to data and source code, and the impact of trade rules in these areas. In order to provide enough policy space for those debates to unfold, the United States has removed its support for proposals that might prejudice or hinder those domestic policy considerations.”

Currently over 90% of digital tools used in public services are from third party providers. The WTO proposals would have further limited democratic accountability and ownership over data and source code generated in the public sector, to the benefit of the world's largest tech firms.

PSI General Secretary Daniel Bertossa said:

“Other governments around the world must also take this opportunity to step back from outdated proposals that favor U.S.-based Big Tech corporations at the expense of workers, public services, democracy, and human rights. These provisions were first proposed when the general public was far less aware of the dangers of Big Tech corporations monopolizing our technology, locking in deregulation, and controlling all of our data."

Unions have been ahead of the curve in warning about corporate ownership of worker data and the failures of algorithmic decision-making in determining access to social benefits and other public services. Now leaders from both the public and private sector are acknowledging that digtitalisation and AI must be subject to proper democratic oversight - something these trade proposals would have undermined. The rules would instead have helped further entrench and extend the privatization of public services and digital infrastructure leading to job losses and the erosion of workers’ rights.

Daniel Bertossa General Secretary, PSI

"When the US, traditionally the biggest cheerleader for big tech firms is saying these proposals aren't right, other governments really ought to listen"

Bertossa said:

"Digitalisation must serve the public interest. But this can not be achieved through these outdated and unfit trade proposals, put forward by the same tech firms who profit from outsourcing public sector digital infrastructure, which would bar source code disclosure and maintain mass data collection in the private sphere.

The US administration is right: governments must not trade away the policy space needed to strengthen algorithmic accountability and build strong public digital infrastructure and skills. The huge data sets generated in the public sector must be governed democratically and used to improve education, health, transportation, water and electricity distribution rather than used to target adds, monitor citizens and sow disinformation."

The US Trade Representative's announcement is a key victory for civil society, including PSI, which has been advocating for years to keep these provisions out of trade agreements. These proposals should now be dropped not only from the WTO negotiations, but also from myriad bilateral and regional agreements such as the EU-New Zealand FTA and the IPEF.

Next, governments must allow the moratorium on customs duties on electronic transmissions to expire at the upcoming 13th WTO Ministerial. There is abundant evidence that Amazon, Netflix, Apple, and Microsoft and other major tech firms can afford normal trade taxes on electronic books, movies, music, and software, when they profit on selling products around the world. These taxes are essential revenue sources for developing countries to build their digital infrastructures, not to mention for public services, climate resilience, and other key needs. A tax holiday for the most profitable Big Tech corporations does nothing for small businesses or workers.

PSI calls on affiliated unions and partners to reach out to their government's WTO Trade Representatives and ensure that support for these Big-tech trade proposals is abandoned completely.