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    Tech giants play too big a role in US Indo-Pacific trade talks, critics say


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    Technology giants are facing backlash as they aggressively attempt to shape a new US trade deal with Australia, South Korea, and other countries in the Indo-Pacific region. These countries collectively contribute to 40% of global economic output. Activists are concerned about the involvement of corporations in drafting the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, particularly the digital chapter of the trade pact. They fear that tech companies may exploit the agreement to avoid domestic regulations and antitrust laws. To limit the role of these companies, activists have launched a campaign, which is gaining momentum as trade negotiators meet in Busan, South Korea for the fourth round of negotiations.

    During previous talks in Australia and Singapore, tech giants like Google and IBM played significant roles. They hosted events and influenced the discussions, raising concerns of potential bias. These actions have further fueled the campaign calling for stricter regulations and oversight. Maria Langholz, the communications director for Demand Progress, a left-leaning advocacy group, accused Big Tech companies of seeking carve-outs in the agreement to continue their anticompetitive behavior.

    The involvement of tech giants in negotiations with government officials has also been a cause for concern. According to sources, the majority of stakeholders who presented in the Singapore round had ties to tech corporations. Google’s spokesperson, José Castañeda, stated that the company has been advocating for the inclusion of strong digital trade provisions in the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework that prioritize accessibility, privacy, security, and trust in cross-border data flows.

    Amidst the criticism, a spokesperson from the US Trade Representative’s office defended the inclusivity of the negotiation process, stating that regular listening sessions are held in Washington to address concerns about the trade talks. However, Senator Elizabeth Warren expressed her concerns that the tech industry is exploiting the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework as a means to undermine meaningful regulation in the US and other countries.

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    US Trade Representative Katherine Tai has emphasized the need to disentangle trade policy from the interests of big business, including the tech industry. Sam Michel, a spokesperson for Tai, assured that the final agreement would prioritize the interests of workers and stakeholders. The US Trade Representative’s office has been receptive to feedback and has engaged in discussions with Senator Warren regarding these concerns.

    The tech companies argue that robust digital rules will not only benefit the tech industry but also protect various other industries. They advocate for digital trade provisions similar to those in the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement. Jonathan McHale, the vice president of digital trade for the Computer and Communications Industry Association, emphasized the importance of creating a regulatory environment that empowers businesses relying on digital services to compete globally.

    The Indo-Pacific Economic Framework aims to counter China’s trade influence in Asia and serves as a replacement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Negotiations have been ongoing for about six months, and the fourth round is currently taking place in Busan, South Korea. The anxiety surrounding the trade deal mainly revolves around its digital trade chapter. Previous versions of the chapter proposed by the US were criticized for preventing member countries from regulating tech companies, including aspects related to market dominance and privacy.

    As concerns continue to grow, progressive voices like Senator Warren have ramped up their pressure campaign. They have called on trade officials to consider a wider range of stakeholders’ perspectives, not just the interests of large corporations. In the midst of ongoing discussions, it remains to be seen how the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework’s final agreement will align with President Biden and Ambassador Tai’s vision for a worker-centered trade policy.

    Credit: The Star : News Feed

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