Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to propose creating international rules on the movement of personal and corporate data in a Wednesday speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, it has been learned.
Abe conceives of establishing a framework for negotiating the rules among members of the World Trade Organization and hopes to reach an agreement to launch talks when leaders of the Group of 20 nations meet in Osaka in June, the sources said. Abe wants to take a leading role in drawing up the rules at the summit, which will be chaired by Japan.
In his speech in Davos, Abe will emphasize the importance of the movement of data. “The engine of growth no longer runs on gasoline but on digital data,” he plans to say, the sources said.
The free flow of data across national borders is seen as essential to economic growth driven by artificial intelligence and the internet. Big data — information on consumers’ online browsing histories and purchase records — has even been called “modern petroleum.”
Japan, the United States and the European Union agree that interested WTO member nations should embark on creating new rules. They believe there should be sufficient safeguards on the flow of data to prevent problems such as leaks of secret or personal information.
In contrast, China is strengthening its restrictions on transferring data outside the country, as well as taking other steps that benefit its domestic information technology industry, such as demanding foreign companies transfer their technology when doing business in China.
To create an environment where data can move freely around the world, Abe has resolved to call for the negotiations not only involving the United States and Europe, but a wide range of WTO member nations, including China, India and African countries.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership commission, made up of ministerial officials from TPP countries, was held in Tokyo on Saturday. Abe told the ministers at the meeting that the trade pact’s “clear provisions on the free flow of data will serve as a model for future international rules.” The TPP prohibits excessive restrictions on the movement of data. Abe also aims to incorporate such a provision into the new rules, the sources said.
However, even if Abe succeeds in launching the negotiations, China and other countries will likely insist on maintaining their own rules on data movement, which might make reaching an agreement difficult.