Insights House of Commons International Trade Select Committee reports on digital trade and data


The International Trade Committee has published its report on “Digital Trade and Data”. The Committee explains that digital trade refers to the digitally enabled trade of goods and services and requires the movement of data across borders. The Government has repeatedly emphasised the importance of digital trade and data in its free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations.

The report examines the impact of new trade agreements on the protection of UK citizens’ data, the importance of a digital trade strategy and potential changes to the UK’s data protection laws.

While the Committee supports the Government’s focus on digital trade and data, it notes that there is no overarching strategy informing the UK’s approach. With the Government striking new trade agreements, the Committee believes this is a pivotal moment to craft a clear strategy on digital trade and data which will guide the development of the UK’s independent trade policy. The Committee recommends that the Government produces and publishes a digital trade and data strategy which clarifies the UK’s approach across all trade negotiations and how this approach interacts with domestic law.

Data protection rules in FTAs are complex and open to diverging legal interpretations. The Committee recommends that, when FTAs are agreed, the Government publishes an assessment of the agreement’s impact on the protection of citizens’ data and ability of the UK to maintain its data protection regime.

Digital trade regulations are affected by a mix of domestic law and international commitments and new trade partners may allow the free flow of data to third countries. The Committee recommends that the Government publishes an assessment on the risk of UK citizens’ data being passed onto third countries without sufficient safeguards when new trade agreements are signed, as well as outlining ways to prevent this from occurring.

While the Committee recognises the importance of maintaining a data adequacy decision with the European Commission, it expresses concerns that new trade agreements may undermine this arrangement.

The Committee recommends that the Government publishes an assessment of the potential impact of new trade agreements on maintaining data adequacy with the European Union.

The Government is committed to joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). While the Committee recognises the opportunities accession to CPTPP could bring, acceding may require the UK to change the way it handles data, particularly EU citizens’ personal data. The Committee recommends that the Government states what changes it anticipates as a result of accession to CPTPP, including those related to the management of EU citizens’ personal data and the subsequent impact on UK stakeholders.

Amending the UK’s GDPR law has the potential to create a simpler, more effective regulatory regime. The Committee welcomes the Government’s intention to build on GDPR, but recommends it sets out how the UK will depart from the EU’s GDPR while maintaining data adequacy and minimising regulatory burdens for businesses. To read the Committee’s news report in full and for a link to the report, click here.