Top US companies urge new Internet trade rules

Top companies in America like Google, Microsoft, Citigroup, IBM, GE and others on Thursday urged the United States govt to fight for trade rules that protect the free flow of information over the Internet.

The unveiling of principles hashed out by the companies over the last nine months comes at a crucial moment, Rick Johnston, senior vice president for international government affairs at Citigroup, told reporters.

Past trade agreements have largely focused on eliminating tariffs on manufactured and agricultural goods. But we're now in an era where the economy is literally driven by the Internet. It's a digital economy, Johnston said.

The group's report says future U.S. trade pacts must reflect the new realities of the global economy: specifically, the contribution of the Internet toward economic growth, toward job creation and exports, said Bob Boorstin, director of public policy for Google, which has battled Internet restrictions in China and other countries.

One dangerous trend is a requirement by an increasing number of governments for companies to locate data centers within a country's borders in order to provide services, Boorstin said.

Such laws are discriminatory and contrary to the notion of cross-border trade, the coalition said in its paper, which also criticized actions governments around the world have taken to block access to information services such as Facebook, Twitter, WordPress and YouTube.

DIGITAL PROTECTIONISM

The office of U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said the group's recommendations match key elements of a joint position the United States and European Union have already introduced at the World Trade Organization.

Eliminating barriers to cross-border data flows and other restrictions that are hindering the growth of the Internet and trade in information technology goods and services is a priority issue in the administration's twenty-first century trade agenda, USTR said.

Even when Internet curbs are intended to support legitimate public interests such as national security or law enforcement, businesses can suffer when those rules are unclear, arbitrary, unevenly applied or more trade restrictive than they need to be to achieve their objectives, the group's paper said.

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