Background: Canada’s possible accession to the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement
What is the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement?
The Digital Economy Partnership Agreement (DEPA), is a new type of international trade policy instrument, initiated by Chile, New Zealand and Singapore. It addresses a range of emerging digital economy issues including:
- artificial intelligence
- digital identities
- digital inclusion
It builds upon the digital trade or e-commerce chapters of existing free trade agreements, such as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), adding enhanced commitments on facilitating digital trade and multi-party cooperation on a range of advanced technologies.
The DEPA is a stand-alone, open plurilateral agreement to which other World Trade Organization (WTO) members are eligible to join. It is constructed as a living agreement, which allows for continual updates and modernization as required. Overall, the DEPA has been designed to complement and support the ongoing WTO negotiations on e-commerce, and to build on the digital economy work underway within Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and other international forums.
The text of the DEPA is available on the Government of New Zealand’s website (PDF).
How is the agreement structured?
The DEPA is divided into modules which cover topics such as:
- business and trade facilitation
- data issues
- business and consumer trust
- digital inclusion
The provisions included in these modules come from the CPTPP e-commerce chapter, and include:
- non-discriminatory treatment of digital products
- non-application of customs duties on electronic transmissions
- regulatory coherence
In addition, the DEPA contains provisions that cover issues such as interconnection, cooperation on competition policy, public domain, and electronic payments. These provisions, among others, are associated with the CPTPP chapters on:
- telecommunication services
- cross-border trade in services
- technical barriers to trade
- intellectual property
- financial services
- competition policy
- small and medium-sized enterprises
- exceptions and general provisions
- transparency and anticorruption
- dispute settlement
- final provisions;
Why is the agreement of interest to Canada?
The DEPA aligns well with Canada’s international and domestic policy objectives. This includes encouraging e-commerce as a means of facilitating international trade and enabling trade diversification for Canadian businesses, including SMEs, in the near term.
The DEPA is a one of a kind digital trade agreement and addresses new problems. Given that digital trade is rapidly changing, past free trade agreements are not advanced enough to eliminate or reduce the barriers faced by businesses operating in the digital economy. The DEPA is a new type of standalone trade agreement that focuses exclusively on facilitating digital trade. There is value for Canada to join early so that we are positioned to contribute to the future course of the agreement.
The DEPA complements the ongoing WTO Joint Statement Initiative (JSI) on E-Commerce negotiations.As the WTO JSI on E-Commerce negotiations are still ongoing, the DEPA can be seen as an important step towards a broader multilateral agreement.
On December 9, 2020, Canada formally notified the DEPA parties of its interest to start exploratory discussions with a view towards possible accession to the DEPA.
The DEPA officially entered into force on January 7, 2021, with Singapore and New Zealand having completed their internal procedures for ratification. Chile is still working toward the completion of its ratification process by early 2021.
On February 16, 2021, Canada started exploratory discussions with the DEPA parties.
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