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MEPs push Commission to take stance on cross-border data flows in trade deals

In a cross-party initiative, leading members of the European Parliament (EP) have called on the European Commission to “put forward its position on cross-border data flows in trade negotiations” and discuss it internally before engaging in trade negotiations with third countries. This would, according to the signatories of the letter to Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, help the EU to overcome current difficulties with setting up its agenda for e-commerce negotiations at bilateral (Japan, TTIP), plurilateral (TiSA) and WTO level.

A delay by the Commission in putting its position on cross-border data flows together for the negotiations on the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) has been criticised by its negotiating partners, the US in particular. According to sources, the Commission was not able to finish the work in time due to concerns signalled by consumer organisations and MEPs about the potential threat to the EU’s personal data protection rules. The same problem might stand in the way of a conclusion of the EU-Japan free trade negotiations, according to media reports.

Personal “data protection should not be subject to trade negotiations. It is a fundamental right, not a trade barrier, and as such, it should be fully excluded from these agreements,” Viviane Reding (EPP, Luxembourg), Jan Philipp Albrecht (the Greens, Germany), Bernd Lange (S&D, Germany), and Marietje Schaake (ALDE, the Netherlands) wrote in a letter dated 15 December.

The EP has long advocated full compatibility of EU trade agreements with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, including the right of the EU to suspend the transfer of personal data from the EU to third countries where rules do not meet EU adequacy standards.

At the same time, MEPs underlined the importance of data flows for international trade. “Data flows have become the backbone of our economies and the bedrock of international trade. They should not be unduly prohibited by means of unjustified forced data localisation requirements. We fully reject protectionism,” they wrote.

Finally, MEPs called for an update of the EU trade in services and data protection rules. “Our trade in services and data protection rules, both at both European and international level, were originally written in 1995, in the pre-Internet era. They are not fit for the digital age,” MEPs wrote.

The “EU’s domestic and international initiatives are two sides of the same coin. To restore consumers’ trust and to provide legal certainty to businesses, the EU must be consistent in its approach at both levels,” they added.

By Joanna Sopinska