Data rights and RCEP deal



  • Recent RCEP Ministerial meet at Bangkok, Thailand in October, 2019. In one of the clauses of RCEP, India may have to accept free flow of data across the borders of RCEP countries.

What is RCEP?

  • It is a proposed regional Comprehensive economic partnership in goods and services between 10 ASEAN and 6 countries which have free trade agreements with ASEAN. The 6 countries are India, China, japan, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea. RCEP is a potential trade bloc with 3.4 billion people with a total GDP of $50 trillion, approximately 40% of the world’s GDP.

Importance of data

  • Data is a central resource and nation’s wealth. Data is being considered as a nation’s new wealth. Efficient use of data may decide a nation’s rank in the emerging new global geo-economic and geo-political hierarchies. Thus, data is important in international relations. Eg. USA’s global surveillance mission PRISM was aimed at getting data from across the world for its own benefit in world politics, trade and defence.
  • Data is instrumental in poverty reduction efforts. Data helps in policy evaluation and improvements in implementation. It brings efficiency in administration plugging leakages. Eg. Audits in MNREGA. Direct benefit transfer scheme for transferring subsidies to targeted beneficiaries. Government of India has saved close to Rs. 50,000 crore by DBT.
  • Data is crucial for business enhancement. Access to data gives insights about consumer preferences, investment climate and market size etc. It helps in better decision making. It is vital for enhancing Ease of Doing Business (EODB). India is at 77th rank in World Bank’s EODB ranking. Data management is important factor for EODB.
  • Data management has become important to maintain economic security and sovereignty of country with the advent of Artificial intelligence. The global digital or artificial intelligence (AI) economy is currently a two-horse race between the U.S. and China. It is feared that all other countries, including the European Union (EU) and major developing countries such as India, will have to become fully digitally dependent on one of these two digital superpowers. This will considerably compromise their economic and political independence, something referred to as digital colonisation.

Issues with the clause of free flow of data across RCEP countries

  • Data provides deep intelligence which can be used to manipulate consumer behaviour. Indian economy is still unorganized and informal which may not be capable of using data of other countries. However, Indian data may be used by other countries to shore up their exports to India.
  • AI use by China may render Indian labour jobless. Indian businesses are still not capable of using AI at large scale.
  • Indian political and economic security may be jeopardized.

Way forward

  • India must preserve its data policy space. In RCEP deal, India must push for data sovereignty to enable localisation of data which is generated in India. Some kinds of data may indeed need to be localised, while others should freely flow globally. It just means that a country retains complete data policy space, and the means to shape its digital industrialisation, and thus its digital future.
  • India must draft a National Data policy like French and the U.K.’s AI strategies. The policy should be based on data standardization and sharing of data within the internal government agencies.

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