OPINION: Mexico, Canada Trade Agreement Ensures American Digital Dominance

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Cabot Phillips Contributor

In 1993, when the U.S. Senate ratified the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Google didn’t exist, Mark Zuckerberg was in grade school, and the iPhone was still 14 years away from entering the pockets of millions of Americans.

Clearly, 2018 is very different from 1993, as the growth of the internet has rapidly changed our society, and our economy, in amazing ways. I’ve experienced this firsthand using internet platforms like YouTube to help my videos reach millions of people online. That wouldn’t be possible without policies that support U.S. innovation.

Yet our trade policy has operated under the 1993 framework, which has proven inadequate to deal with the realities of our newly digitized world. That’s why the pending U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), negotiated by President Trump to replace NAFTA, is such an exciting new development. It’s not perfect, but the USMCA does include some important updates to digital trade policy that will protect our online ecosystem and strengthen our economy.

Right now, U.S. businesses have an online dominance that makes the rest of the world jealous. The internet represents over 6.5 percent of our GDP, and in 2015, we had a $161.5 billion trade surplus in digitally deliverable goods, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Simply put, we’re the leader of the digital world.

That’s why other countries are going after us. They are enacting what are called data localization laws, which force internet companies, most of which are American, to house all data collected in those countries within those countries’ borders. These onerous rules would place an undue burden on American companies, hindering their ability to conduct business efficiently. China has a particular interest in this, as they are trying to be the new leader in the global digital economy.

The USMCA would ensure that partner countries will permit the free flow of data across borders. Section 19.11(1) reads: “No Party shall prohibit or restrict the cross-border transfer of information, including personal information, by electronic means if this activity is for the conduct of the business of a covered person.”

This means that U.S. business can provide their services free from big government restrictions, which will help them to invest in our economy and hire more Americans. Further, it helps maintain our digital preeminence and compete with countries like China or India.

The USMCA also supports American tech and innovation by ensuring that intermediary liability protections are kept in place. Intermediary liability protections essentially mean that companies like Facebook or Twitter are held accountable for illicit or illegal content, but can still allow users to exercise freedom of expression without fear of wanton litigation.

Why is this important? Think of it this way: should people be able to sue a paper company or a pen maker because of a threatening letter that someone else wrote? Of course not. In the same way, people shouldn’t be able to sue YouTube or Facebook for what a user says on their platforms, so long as the companies operate responsibly.

If these policies were to be eliminated in America, as they are in parts of Africa and Asia, it would hinder the ability of countless online businesses to operate. It would also cause untold damage to our economy. According to one report, as much as 4.25 million jobs and half a trillion dollars could be lost if intermediary liability protections are erased. Moreover, the USMCA allows America to set the rules for North America.

Without this important language in USMCA, free and open speech online could be in danger as well. If companies like Yelp and Twitter were to be held liable for what users say on their platform, then that would force those companies to act as gatekeepers to speech to ensure they don’t get sued.

As a YouTube partner who relies on that platform to reach my audience, I’m especially concerned about this. It means that I, and many other conservatives, might not have the same ability to freely express our beliefs online.

Simply put, this is something that users, as well as the platforms themselves, don’t want.

The USMCA is an important step toward modernizing U.S. law to protect and strengthen the internet. By protecting the free flow of data across borders and preserving intermediary liability protections, this agreement ensures that American entrepreneurs can continue what they do best, which is to innovate and provide better services and tools to countless people.

Cabot Phillips (@Cabot_Phillips) is a YouTube Partner, creating and starring in videos that have amassed over 100 million views across online platforms. He is also the media director for Campus Reform, and worked previously as digital grassroots director for Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential bid.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.