By Senators Saxby Chambliss & Kent Conrad

At a pivotal moment in global trade, the United States stands at a digital crossroads.

Just a few months ago, the U.S. trade representative (USTR) sparked widespread concern—both at home and abroad—by unexpectedly stepping away from digital trade principles that have been the bedrock of American innovation and economic progress. Now, as the World Trade Organization (WTO) convenes for its upcoming session, the USTR has a critical opportunity to articulate America’s vision for the future of digital commerce. Failing to seize this moment would not only muddle the U.S.’s stance on a key global issue but also hand China an enduring strategic edge. This is more than a chance for clarification; it’s a crucial test of the U.S.’s ability to lead in the digital era.

Historically, the United States has championed the free flow of data, products, and services among allies and like-minded nations. This policy has both fueled our economic dynamism and also laid the groundwork for the U.S. to out-innovate global competitors on critical emerging technology like artificial intelligence (AI).

Yet, in a surprising pivot last October, the USTR announced its departure from long-supported digital trade doctrines that protected the free flow of data across borders, prohibited data localization mandates, and safeguarded software source code from forced disclosures. Some of these very principles were most recently implemented as an integral part of the 2020 United States-Mexico-Canada Free Trade Agreement and the 2019 U.S.-Japan Digital Trade Agreement. The USTR’s abrupt policy shift rightly ignited bipartisan criticism, with more than 30 senators condemning the move as a boon to authoritarian regimes like China and Russia.

The USTR’s withdrawal signifies more than just a policy reversal; it’s an alarming step back from the United States’ role in championing international technology standards that reflect our democratic values and bolster our economic security. This move not only undermines the capacity of the U.S. and other democracies to advocate for the free exchange of information across borders but also risks emboldening countries with authoritarian agendas. These regimes could enforce policies, such as mandatory in-country data storage and compulsory source code transfers, that directly jeopardize American technological leadership and compromise global technology security.

Read more at The Hill.