The G20 summit was held in Osaka on June 28 and 29. At the ministerial meeting on trade and digital economy on day one, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe emphasized the need to establish an international framework and set of rules for the free flow of data among trusted countries and regions.
On this basis, Abe stated that “we ... resolve to make further efforts to achieve substantial progress in the negotiations by the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference in June 2020.” This rule-making negotiation framework has been named the “Osaka Track,” as it was launched at this summit.
The origins of Abe’s policy announcement can be traced back to Jan. 23, when Japan became the first country to earn an adequacy decision from the European Commission after the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force on May 25 last year. The move created a Japan-EU security zone for data flows, covering 635 million people, making it the largest of its kind in the world.
Before the eyes of the US and China, Japan and European countries cooperated at the summit to elevate personal data protection to the international trade level. The background to this Japanese policy lies in its deep thinking on the digital economy.
In the IT-driven new economy, data, money and talent are concentrated in four big tech companies — Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon, the so-called GAFA gang, a situation that is being called “the new monopoly” in the US. The GAFA gang and China’s BAT gang — Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent — reach a total number of 13 billion users, twice the world’s total population.
Once involved in this powerful economic circle, it would be difficult to escape easily, even for enterprises.
The “new monopoly” dominates global digital development. Apple’s application service has grown to one billion users in 10 years, and a simple rule change is enough to influence the fate of 500,000 developers and engineers — even popular communication services like Line cannot violate the rules.
Most Japanese consumers are trapped by the Facebook lock-in effect and can no longer support the development of Japanese start-ups. Unknowingly, the new monopoly is killing many small-scale local services that might provide better services.
The “new monopoly” of a small number of giant IT enterprises has caused a deep sense of crisis in medium-sized countries like Japan and those in Europe.
In addition to the EU-Japan GDPR Adequacy Agreement, Japan and the EU also proposed the Osaka Track at the G20 Osaka summit based on Abe’s “data free flow with trust” principle.
Although the specific content of the Osaka Track still needs to be discussed, it is a declaration that medium-sized countries are firmly challenging the new monopoly. The Osaka Track proposal shows that the personal protection issue has officially entered the field of international trade.
Taiwan’s bid for GDPR adequacy is currently under negotiation. The legal cooperation between Japan and the EU on international trade should be instructive.
Japan and the EU’s position on the digital economy and global trade should prompt Taiwan to make a clear decision and properly regulate personal information protection. It is time that the competent authorities stopped hesitating and procrastinating.
Liao Wei-min is an associate professor of National Chung Hsing University’s Department of Law.
Translated by Lin Lee-kai
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