Gov reveals plans to 'break down digital trade barriers'

The international trade secretary has today unveiled government plans to break down what it describes as ‘unfair or discriminatory’ digital trade barriers.

At London Tech Week, Anne-Marie Trevelyan said that the Department for International Trade (DIT) will publish a five-point plan to establish a ‘free and fair’ digital trade landscape to boost UK businesses.

The government claims that many businesses face barriers that restrict their ability to benefit from digital technology, such as paperless trading, or force them to meet ‘unjustified’ requirements to localise data or disclose their intellectual properties such as source code.

It added that making digital trade easier would make it simpler to sell online and for businesses to trade efficiently and cost-effectively.

“All of us depend on digital trade, yet British businesses face digital barriers in countries who take a protectionist approach,” said international trade secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan, during her first speech since being appointed trade secretary last week. “I want the UK to break down these barriers and open up new, exciting opportunities for businesses and consumers so we can see improved productivity, jobs and growth.”

Trevelyan added: “Our five-point plan is the first step in shaping international digital trade policy for decades to come. Through our network of international agreements, we are breaking new ground, pushing forward innovative ideas and setting a new gold standard for digital trade.”

The DIT said that under the new plans, it would:

1. Facilitate more open digital markets to ensure British consumers and businesses benefit from greater access to digital markets in other countries.
2. Advocate free and trusted cross-border data flows that will make it simpler and cheaper for businesses who use data to trade internationally while maintaining the UK’s high standards for personal data protection.
3. Champion consumer and business safeguards through enhanced consumer and intellectual property protections.
4. Promote the development and adoption of innovative digital trading systems such as digital customs processes, e-contracting and paperless trading, which can cut red tape and make trade easier, cheaper, faster, and more secure.
5. Establish global cooperation on digital trade via free trade agreements with international partners and using our G7 presidency and seat at the WTO to push for countries to become more open to digital trade.

According to government figures, the digital sector contributed £150.6 billion to the UK economy in 2019 and employed 4.6 per cent of the national workforce.

Last year, the UK agreed a comprehensive digital chapter as part of the Free Trade Agreement with Japan and in June, and negotiations were launched on a Digital Economy Agreement with Singapore.

In the coming months, the UK will look to conclude trade negotiations with other countries, including Australia and New Zealand.

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