Piyush Goyal pushes for nations’ sovereign right to use data for social welfare

New Delhi: India has said countries must have the sovereign right to use data they generate, for the welfare and development of their people and that advocacy on free trade should not lead to justification of data free flow.

Referring to Digital India, StartUp India and Aadhaar, which promote economic inclusivity using digital platforms which generate huge amount of data, commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal said: “This includes personal, community and public data, and countries must have the sovereign right, to use their data, for the welfare and development of its people”.

Goyal was speaking at the G20 trade ministers meeting in Japan. New Delhi also said that issues of privacy and security should be given due consideration in the debate on Data Free Flow with Trust (DFFT) before global rules are made on e-commerce.

DFFT seeks to eliminate restrictions on cross-border transfer of information by electronic means, including personal information, and storing data in foreign servers. The idea was proposed by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting this year. It goes against India’s draft national e-commerce policy which has proposed regulating cross border data flows, locating computing facilities within India to ensure job creation and setting up a dedicated ‘data authority’ for issues related to sharing of community data.

Goyal said digital infrastructure can help reduce developing countries’ capacity constrains and facilitate a level playing field for all countries to take equitable advantage of data free flows.

“Developing countries need time and policy space to build deepest understanding of the subject and formulate their own legal and regulatory framework before meaningfully engaging in e-commerce negotiations,” Goyal said. It is for this reason, he said, that India does not, at this stage, support the joint initiative on e-commerce.

The joint initiative on ecommerce comprises 77 members who have begun negotiating global rules on digital trade while the others, fiincluding India, are opposed to these.

“We reaffirm the importance of the Work Programme on electronic commerce. We note the ongoing discussion under the Joint Statement Initiative on e-commerce. Participants in the respective Joint Statement Initiatives under the WTO welcome the ongoing discussion and confirm their commitment to achieve progress,” the G20 said in its Ministerial Statement on Trade and Digital Economy on Sunday. “At the same time, we recognise that the free flow of data raises certain challenges,” they said.


WTO REVIVAL, TARIFFS
India called for a de-escalation of trade tensions, revival of confidence in the World Trade Organization (WTO-) and easier movement of skilled professionals to sustain global growth and investment.

Goyal said the WTO’s reform process should begin with reviving the dispute settlement mechanism by allowing re-nomination of Appellate Body members at the earliest.

The reform process should not undermine the WTO’s fundamental principles, namely, Special and Differential Treatment, consensus based decision making and the objective of development.

Referring to plurilateral initiatives especially the one on ecommerce, India said these have been formed outside WTO with no mandate and they “set an unhealthy trend of influencing rule making within WTO”.

“The G20 should commit to support only WTO consistent rules and avoid creating unsurmountable goals. They should remain consistent with WTO rules and not go beyond till such boundaries are revised,” Goyal said.