April 24, 2023

Senator Warren, Lawmakers Reiterate Concern over Big Tech Pushing Digital Trade Rules that Conflict with Biden Competition Agenda and Pending Legislation

“We ask that you ensure new digital trade rules complement—rather than conflict with—our efforts to promote competition in the digital economy, regulate artificial intelligence, and protect online privacy.”

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) led six of her colleagues in sending a letter to the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Katherine Tai and Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, reiterating concerns about the impact that including skewed digital trade rules in the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF) will have on the U.S. government’s ability to promote competition, regulate AI, and protect consumer and worker privacy. The lawmakers are also urging USTR to prioritize transparency as they continue to negotiate IPEF.

This letter was also signed by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Representatives Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), and Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.).

“While we appreciate your commitment that digital trade negotiations will not conflict with the federal government’s active work on tech policy,  we remain concerned that Big Tech companies are advocating for an approach to digital trade that will do just that,” wrote the lawmakers. 

Big Tech companies are calling for IPEF to include a provision that would allow their lobbyists to attack tech regulations as “illegal trade barriers” simply because they may primarily impact “digital products” of dominant companies that happen to be headquartered in the United States.

“It is not ‘trade discrimination’ for the U.S. government or any of our trading partners to regulate Google, Meta, Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon to protect online competition, as tech industry groups have claimed —it is common sense, and trade-pact terms should in no way inhibit it,” wrote the lawmakers. 

In July 2021, President Biden issued an executive order that would promote competition in the American economy and direct federal agencies to pursue policies that would do the same. Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress is considering bipartisan proposals to regulate Big Tech. However, tech lobbyists are advocating digital trade rules that would tie the hands of Congress and of the regulators and conflict with President Biden’s whole-of-government effort to promote competition. 

The lawmakers also raised concern with the lack of transparency in the negotiating process and the speed at which the negotiations are proceeding. 

“An artificial deadline must not come before ensuring that the deal fulfills the Biden Administration’s commitments to promote competition in the economy, to protect digital privacy, and to advance a worker-centered trade policy,” wrote the lawmakers. “If trade agreements contain rules that allow tech companies to plead ‘illegal trade discrimination’ to avoid accountability for monopolistic and discriminatory behavior, not only will personal privacy and consumers’ trust in the Internet be threatened, but the United States’ economic and national security as well.”

Senator Warren has long pushed for trade policy that benefits American workers, not corporate interests:

  • On March 23, 2023, at a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) questioned U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Katherine Tai on the agency’s approach to digital trade policy in enforcement of existing rules and negotiation of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF).
  • In October 2022, Senator Warren and Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) sent a letter to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo underscoring the dangers of Big Tech’s digital trade agenda.
  • In August 2022, Senator Warren and Representative Rosa DeLauro sent a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, requesting that the agencies involved engage in robust consultation with Congress and outside stakeholders on the recently announced Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) and Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity (APEP), and urging them learn from the failures of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
  • In July 21, 2022, Senator Warren and Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo raising questions about the revolving door between the Department of Commerce and Big Tech companies, and its potential impact on global digital trade rules.
  • On April 12, 2022, Senators Warren and Bob Casey sent letters to USTR Katherine Tai and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo regarding their plans to negotiate an Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) and how this new trade deal may impact U.S. workers. 
  • In April 2022, at a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee, Senator Warren secured a commitment from Ambassador Katherine Tai to bring a progressive, worker-centered approach to trade policy in her role as U.S. Trade Representative.