Expert Pitch

NAFTA 2.0 reaction from digital-trade expert

George Washington University
10-Dec-2019 3:45 PM EST, by George Washington University

The following is from Susan Ariel Aaronson, director of the Digital Trade and Data Governance Hub and a research professor at GW (full bio). Dr. Aaronson is available for interviews on the topic.  

I am ambivalent about NAFTA 2.0. Is it a better agreement than NAFTA? No and yes. It is more up to date and comprehensive- because it includes some labor rights improvements and bare minimum rules governing digital trade. However, the digital trade chapter reflects the views/needs of the data behemoths and not web users. The digital trade chapter makes the free flow of data binding, but it has only a privacy floor and does little to promote interoperable privacy rules. The agreement is clearly focused on expanding access to continental-wide data for AI and other data-driven services (with language facilitating public data in machine readable format and a ban on requirements to divulge source code). But it says nothing about mixing various types of data and about potential human rights spillovers of data misuse.

Moreover, NAFTA 2.0 provides no incentives to good governance, and at bottom, it is not always market enhancing, but reflects Trump Administration bullying. Negotiations should be built on trust and mutual interest, not bullying.

Finally, I am concerned about the potential messages it sends. If the Congress passes it, it is approving a trade agreement that does not consistently embody the rule of law, is incomplete, and is the result of US bullying. But if the Congress doesn't pass it, the US could be seen as ever more protectionist--on the very day that the WTO's appellate body disappears. If this is the most creative, comprehensive and up to date thinking that USTR can do, it's sad.

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