The UK should work with other countries to update the “global rulebook” on buying and selling goods and services online to counter the risk of “incompatible, protectionist and discriminatory” regulations emerging across the world, a report suggests.
Without the implementation of “modern norms, rules and standards”, regulations could become more “fragmented”, as well as “less effective” at keeping people and businesses safe, according to a paper to be published on Friday by the Board of Trade.
The Board of Trade, which works alongside the Department for International Trade, warns in its report that if digital trade is to become the “new normal”, rules must be created to enable countries at all stages of development to benefit.
“Divergent approaches are emerging around the world for the regulation of digital trade. The risk is that incompatible, protectionist and discriminatory regulations emerge in different countries and regions,” it says.
“But there is also an opportunity for the UK, with its newly independent trade policy, to step up and play a global leadership role. Ongoing initiatives and recent successes suggest that a much-needed consensus can still be built among global partners.”
The report says that the UK “should show how updating the global rulebook and advocating for free and fair digital trade can benefit everyone”.
It adds that a new set of digital trade principles negotiated between the UK and other G7 members last month “suggests that major economies share common goals and values for digital trade” – and “could be a foundation for building a wider consensus”.
But it says it is not necessary for all rules to be “harmonised”.
“Countries will, and should, take different approaches to regulation which reflect their specific circumstances,” the report says.
“However, regulations should be interoperable and coherent internationally.”
The Department for International Trade said the UK exported more than £200 billion worth of digitally delivered services in 2019 – and this is only set to increase following the pandemic.
It added that advancing digital trade could help to boost wages, with employees in the digital sector earning around 50% more than the UK average.
International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan, who will launch the report at a Board of Trade meeting in Northern Ireland on Friday, said: “Digital trade presents huge opportunities for our brilliant UK businesses, that’s why we’re building a global network of next-generation trade deals that drive productivity and boost high-paying jobs and growth in all parts of the UK.
“By addressing digital protectionism on the global stage and championing a free, open and competitive digital economy, more UK companies will be able to export their innovative, high-quality services and goods globally.”