E-Commerce and Cybersecurity Remain Priorities for G-20 Leaders

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By Bryce Baschuk

Leaders of the world’s 20 major economies are expected to break new ground this year in their focus on digital trade, cybersecurity, and the internet’s growing impact on the global economy.

The German hosts of this year’s G-20 summit, set to begin July 7, prioritized the digital economy as an area of strategic importance and established a “digital ministerial process” to examine how electronic commerce can affect future growth and employment.

In recent years, online giants like Alphabet Inc.'s Gooogle, Amazon.com Inc., and the Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., have called on global leaders to reduce barriers to digital trade—such as requirements that companies store certain data inside a country and legal obstacles to cross-border data transfers.

If successful, the G-20’s increased focus on digital issues may encourage the U.S., China, Japan, the European Union, Russia, and other G-20 member governments to harmonize their approach to the global e-commerce marketplace, which is valued at $25 trillion, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

“We very much hope the G-20 will address the importance of digital trade,” John Danilovich, the secretary general of the International Chamber of Commerce, told Bloomberg BNA. “Small and medium-sized businesses depend tremendously on e-commerce,” he said.

The G-20 members make up more than 80 percent of gross world product and some 75 percent of global trade, according to the G-20.

Cybersecurity, E-Commerce

In April, a group of G-20 ministers issued a 20-page report detailing ways that nations can “maximize the contributions that digitalization can provide to the economy,” including reducing obstacles to the adoption of information and communications technologies (ICTs); encouraging participation by new digital businesses; establishing international standards; and promoting digital literacy.

The summit presents an opportunity for the G-20 economies to forward the goals of the report.

A crucial aspect of the effort would focus on ensuring trust in the digital environment by strengthening international and domestic legal frameworks regarding security, privacy, and data protection.

Cybersecurity remains an important aspect of the G-20’s digital agenda, which will be featured “predominantly in the communique” issued at the end of the summit, Jacob Kirkegaard, a senior fellow with the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, told Bloomberg BNA.

This is especially due to “what has happened in recent weeks with the ransomware attacks,” Kirkegaard said. Cybersecurity is something that the G-20 members can “all agree on,” he said.

Commercial Espionage

U.S. businesses will be watching closely to see how the Hamburg G-20 summit communique differentiates from prior years in order to understand which issues are gaining momentum. In recent years, commercial espionage has gained attention in the G-20 communiques.

“I think there is every reason for the G-20 to continue attention to this space,” Joshua Meltzer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, told Bloomberg BNA.

At the 2015 G-20 summit in Antalya, Turkey, world leaders agreed to refrain from using information and communications technologies to steal intellectual property, trade secrets, or other confidential business information. During the 2016 summit in Hangzhou, China, leaders reaffirmed their commitment to eschew the digital theft of intellectual property and trade secrets and agreed to foster greater “trust and security” in the digital space.

“The G-20 could potentially have a role in more norms in this area and better cooperation and I would expect that to be part of the program going forward when it comes to commercial espionage,” Metzler said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bryce Baschuk in Geneva at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Donald Aplin in Washington at daplin@bna.com

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