Forging a truly Transatlantic digital economy

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Dealmaking at CEBIT. [CeBIT Australia/Flickr]

With Transatlantic Week starting tomorrow in Washington, TTIP remains an opportunity for the US and Europe to show that free data flow is good for innovation and economic growth, write Dean Garfield and John Higgins.

Dean Garfield is President and CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI). John Higgins is Director General of DIGITALEUROPE.

On 16 August 1858, miles beneath the Atlantic Ocean, electricity pulsed from Ireland towards North America through copper wires wrapped in tarred hemp and insulated from the crushing depths by the sap of gutta-percha trees.

Within days the cable carrying telegrams across the Atlantic failed. Telegraph operators from each side had different views on how it should work and had even built their sections of the cable differently. It took unprecedented levels of transatlantic cooperation to eventually put this revolutionary communication tool back on a sustainable footing.

As the heads of two organisations representing the global information and communications technology (ICT) industry, we recognise that, even a century and a half later, the challenges we face continue to call for exceptional levels of transatlantic leadership.

We are therefore deepening our partnership and publicly outlining our shared priorities regarding the key issues facing our sector and our economies as we participate in Transatlantic Week in Washington from 21-23 July.

Top of the transatlantic economic agenda is the ongoing negotiation on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). This agreement would be the most commercially significant trade and investment agreement of all time, creating jobs, making goods cheaper, and reducing bureaucratic obstacles for, among others, the growing number of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) looking to expand their businesses to a parallel, digitally enabled market on the other side of the Atlantic.

TTIP also represents a tremendous opportunity to increase the consistency of our governments’ approaches to ICT policy, and to make our shared approach a de facto gold standard in digital trade for other trading partners around the world.

This is especially important with regard to the movement of data across borders. Free data flows are an essential element in 21st century trade in products and services of all kinds. The EU and the United States have a unique opportunity to demonstrate to the rest of the world that by allowing data to flow freely, fully respecting privacy and other public interests, they can stimulate innovation and boost economic growth.

With growing signs of data protectionism in many countries this message is more important than ever.

We are also urging TTIP negotiators to conclude an “ICT annex” in the agreement that would: (1) enhance transparency in making regulations; (2) affirm our shared commitment to global, voluntary standards for ICT products and services, such as those relating to the “Internet of Things”; and (3) advance cooperation on issues such as e-labelling.

Many of these issues are featured in the EU’s ambitious Digital Single Market (DSM) strategy unveiled in May. The DSM aims to grant Europe the same benefits of scale that have helped the U.S. produce so many world class companies, particularly but not only in the tech space.

The DSM will have a major impact on the transatlantic digital relationship. If successfully implemented, it will be a remarkable and hugely beneficial achievement for companies, employees, small business owners, and consumers on both sides of the Atlantic.

By eliminating the complex patchwork of consumer protection, copyright, and other policies among its 28 member states, the EU would turbocharge innovation and job creation both within Europe and between Europe, the United States, and the rest of the world.

The tech sector will work closely with the EU institutions to help ensure that the DSM succeeds. And it won’t shy away from criticising initiatives that veer off the stated course.

Many of the 16 separate DSM initiatives show truly global thinking, and reflect our core concerns in areas such as safeguarding free flows of data, and efforts to speed up the digital transformation of Europe’s economy.

However, other initiatives could create a narrower future. Plans for a reassessment of Europe’s approach to standardization for ICT products and services is one example. The examination of online platforms proposed in the DSM strategy are another. How Europe deals with these two important areas of tech policy will help determine whether the EU sits at the centre of the emerging global digital economy or becomes a walled garden somewhere near its periphery.

Governments must regulate in the public interest. In the tech space that means protecting people’s personal information, shielding youth from inappropriate content, and preventing anti-competitive market behaviour.

The member companies of our two associations are successful thanks to their customers, so they have a strong interest in working together with governments on both sides of the Atlantic to address any concerns raised by emerging technologies.

We will continue to help policymakers get it right when adopting laws for the tech space. That means ensuring that policy is balanced, proportionate and targeted at specific identified problems, consistent with our shared commitment to open non-discriminatory trade and investment policies.

As the success of the transatlantic telegram has shown, when Europe and the United States work together on our shared technology priorities, we can achieve unprecedented advancements. Indeed, our shared and longstanding commitment to innovation and the movement of data across borders has contributed greatly to the global adoption of game-changing technologies such as the Internet and mobile telephony.

As the digital revolution gathers pace, touching almost every aspect of our lives, this spirit of cooperation is more important than ever. Our organisations and member companies stand ready to work as partners with officials on both sides of the Atlantic. Together we can chart our course towards a digital transatlantic space that promises to enrich all our lives.

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