In 1995, the World Trade Organization was created to “to develop an integrated, more viable and durable multilateral trading system.” It was a major step forward in formalizing the rules and procedures around the global trading system of the late 20th Century and globalization, which at the time was dominated by large multinational corporations moving large shipments of products across international borders. The policies in the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT), the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), and regional trade agreements that have followed were largely designed to further this traditional model of trade.
In 1995, the National Science Foundation divested its final piece of its computer science network (NSFNET) marking the official commercialization of the Internet, at the time the Internet had a user base of less than 20 million. The Internet was designed to facilitate communication between individual desktop users sitting on independent networks, and was largely used by academics at the time. The policies that shaped the modern Internet were the creation of national governments and a multi-stakeholder process involving engineers, businesses, non-profits, and government.
In 1995, there was not much thought given to the world of trade intersecting with the burgeoning Internet.
It is more than 20 years later, and the worlds of global trade and the Internet are rapidly overlapping. In 2011-2012, the US census bureau reported that 49.3% of manufacturing trade was conducted through electronic means; McKinsey found that the Internet accounted for 21% of GDP growth in mature economies; and, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reported that the only 5.7% of small firms in the EU25 were not accessing the Internet. There is a divergence of opinion, though on whether the Internet is revolutionizing the players, method, and function of international trade. Moreover, despite the increased importance of the Internet to doing business in the modern world, trade policymakers struggle to understand the individual policy issues of the Internet and Internet-enabled commerce.
This class will bring together the divergent worlds of Internet and trade policy. Students will analyze the macro questions around trade through the lens of the Internet revolution. Moreover, students will delve into a number of unique trade issues that are being created as a result of the global Internet. Students will also analyze national laws on the Internet and why they are difficult to globalize. The class will challenge students to understand the unique issues of the Internet, to think about classical trade and development issues in new ways, and to challenge the efficacy of global policy solutions to global Internet problems.
The class will be divided into three parts: Part 1 will provide background on the Internet and trade and will lay out the foundational questions that underlie the rest of the class; Part 2 will delve into a number of specific Internet policy issues through the lens of trade; and Part 3 will be forward looking and will ask students for solutions to difficult policy questions.