The Trans-Pacific Partnership: A Step Forward for the Internet

When we think about global trade, most of us imagine container ships navigating the Panama Canal and large multinational companies with warehouses around the world. But the Internet is upending this model and opening the door for the over three billion people already online to exchange goods, services, and ideas.

Today, a small business can sell its products overseas with little more than an app or website. An artist, musician, or author can reach a global audience without needing a superstar agent. A small business on Bainbridge Island, Washington sells its marine parts to customers in 176 countries, and a unique performer like Lindsey Stirling cultivates a global audience with millions of views on YouTube.

The Internet is profoundly changing the global economy -- democratizing who participates in trade, transforming the way traditional industries do business, and internationalizing the way people around the world connect. Today, information flows contribute more than the flow of physical goods to global economic growth.

But Internet restrictions -- like censorship, site-blocking, and forced local storage of data -- threaten the Internet’s open architecture. This can seriously harm established businesses, startups trying to reach a global audience, and Internet users seeking to communicate and collaborate across national borders.

Trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are beginning to recognize the Internet’s transformative impact on trade.

  • The Internet has revolutionized how people can share and access information, and the TPP promotes the free flow of information in ways that are unprecedented for a binding international agreement. The TPP requires the 12 participating countries to allow cross-border transfers of information and prohibits them from requiring local storage of data. These provisions will support the Internet’s open architecture and make it more difficult for TPP countries to block Internet sites -- so that users have access to a web that is global, not just local. 
  • The TPP provides strong copyright protections, while also requiring fair and reasonable copyright exceptions and limitations that protect the Internet. It balances the interests of copyright holders with the public’s interest in the wider distribution and use of creative works -- enabling innovations like search engines, social networks, video recording, the iPod, cloud computing, and machine learning. The endorsement of balanced copyright is unprecedented for a trade agreement. The TPP similarly requires the kinds of copyright safe harbors that have been critical to the Internet’s success, with allowances for some variation to account for different legal systems. 
  • The TPP advances other important Internet policy goals. It prohibits discrimination against foreign Internet services, limits governments’ ability to demand access to encryption keys or other cryptographic methods, requires pro-innovation telecom access policies, prohibits customs duties on digital products, requires proportionality in intellectual property remedies, and advances other key digital goals
The TPP is not perfect, and the trade negotiation process could certainly benefit from greater transparency. We will continue to advocate for process reforms, including the opportunity for all stakeholders to have a meaningful opportunity for input into trade negotiations.

In terms of substance, we believe that future trade agreements can do even more to build a modern pro-innovation, pro-Internet trade agenda. For example, while the TPP’s balanced copyright provisions can be a force for good, these balancing provisions should be expanded in future agreements.

We hope that the TPP can be a positive force and an important counterweight to restrictive Internet policies around the world. Like many other tech companies, we look forward to seeing the agreement approved and implemented in a way that promotes a free and open Internet across the Pacific region.