Data Sovereignty and Trade Agreements: Three Digital Kingdoms

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For centuries, international lawyers have wrestled with the relationship between national sovereignty and international law. This is also the case of international trade law, where the tension between trade liberalization and national sovereignty culminated in the famous “Great 1994 Sovereignty Debate” between the late Prof John Jackson and other leading scholars when the WTO came into being. 

As we entered the digital age, the issue of sovereignty resurfaced once again in the form of data sovereignty. Professor Henry Gao examined provisions in trade agreements which dealt with data sovereignty issues, such as restrictions on data flow such as internet filtering and censorship; data localization requirements including the requirements to use certain technologies. In particular, the paper focused on the clash between the US, China, and the EU, which chose to champion the sovereignty of the firm, the state and the individual respectively. With a critical examination of their relevant policies and positions, the paper also suggested ways the issue should be dealt with in future trade agreements.  


About the Speaker 

Henry Gao is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation and Professor of Law at Singapore Management University. He sits on the Advisory Board of the WTO Chairs Program and the editorial boards of the Journal of International Economic Law and Journal of Financial Regulation. Professor Gao is a CIBEL fellow and has engaged with CIBEL researchers and activities since the centre was established in 2015.

In addition to being a regular speaker or commentator in CIBEL events, Professor Gao has worked with CIBEL Co-Director Associate Professor Weihuan Zhou in a range of quality and impactful publications covering issues relating to the US-China trade war, China’s state capitalism, industrial policy and subsidies, the WTO’s Appellate Body crisis and solutions, China’s developing country status and request for joining the CPTPP, and the nexus between trade and sustainability focusing on China’s energy transition and climate action.