Surveying the Damage: Why We Must Accurately Measure Cross-Border Data Flows and Digital Trade Barriers

January 27, 2020

Digital trade flows—which were practically nonexistent just 15 years ago—now play a central role in global trade and commerce.1 Yet efforts to better assess the extent and value of data flows, and the impact of government restrictions on them, are frustratingly few and far between. A survey from Japan on the impact of China’s cybersecurity law (CSL) and the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a notable and welcome exception. Surveys from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) provide similarly valuable insights into the impact of barriers to cross-border data flows and digital trade.

This briefing analyzes these surveys in order to make the case for policymakers in key countries and international organizations to expand their use of surveys to better identity, measure, and analyze cross-border data flows and digital trade—and barriers to them. This is particularly important, as what gets measured and surveyed is more likely to get managed and addressed. Countries that value an open, competitive global digital economy need to do more both at home and with like-minded regional and global partners, such as at IDB and OECD, to fill this information gap to better inform domestic policy debates and trade negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO) and elsewhere.