E-commerce isn’t exactly new. It’s been a fixture of developed economies for 20 years and it’s playing an increasingly crucial role in developing economies. Despite the fact that there are plenty of professionals in business, economics, and trade today who can’t remember a time when e-commerce wasn’t a thing, e-commerce’s role in international trade remains confusingly minor.
Every year, numerous trade agreements are signed between various nations. These transactions include agricultural crops, manufactured goods, and raw materials. Services such as business consulting, academic services, and policy advice can all be included in trade agreements. Anything relating to e-commerce, on the other hand, has been conspicuously absent.
Digital services have, of course, been facets of trade deals before, and more trade deals are focusing on the digital economy. However, in general, this has been a major blind spot for international trade. DEPA, or the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement, aims to change all of that.
The DEPA is an innovative trade policy tool initiated by New Zealand, Chile, and Singapore. It’s a flexible arrangement that is intended to address quickly changing digital economy issues. The DEPA covers categories such as artificial intelligence and digital identities.
Canada and the DEPA
On May 22nd, Canada’s Minister of International Trade, Export Promotion, Small Business, and Economic Development, Mary Ng, announced that Canada has submitted a formal request to begin negotiations to join the DEPA. The Canadian government had been mulling over the decision for months and eventually opted to join. The Canadian government probably figured that agreements like the DEPA will play a more prominent role in international trade going forward.
The Future of Digital Trade
The DEPA aims to provide an innovative way to deal with the challenges related to the digital economy and trade. The governments involved seek to develop a forum for the purposes of influencing how issues of the international digital economy will be addressed.
As mentioned above, the DEPA is not totally without precedent. In fact, several bilateral digital economy agreements, or DEAs, between similarly minded countries have already gone beyond the DEPA in some ways. Perhaps most notable is Singapore’s DEAs with reciprocal partners, including the UK. And Singapore is an original signatory of the DEPA, so this is clearly a priority for their government.
The DEPA had membership expansion in mind from the beginning and it appears Canada is their first big “get.” For now, the most important thing about the DEPA is that it exists at all. While it hasn’t set in stone any clear policies to follow for the digital age, countries now have a blueprint for how to cooperate and design such policies together.
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