National

Abe heralds launch of 'Osaka Track' framework for free cross-border data flow at G20

by Satoshi Sugiyama

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday at the G20 summit formally declared the launch of the “Osaka Track,” an overarching framework promoting cross-border data flow with enhanced protections.

Sandwiched between U.S. President Donald Trump on his right and Chinese President Xi Jinping on his left at a meeting on the digital economy, Abe underscored the importance of his “Data Free Flow with Trust” concept, a move spearheaded by Japan that calls for the creation of a set of international rules enabling the free movement of data across borders.

The Osaka initiative, introduced in a speech at this year’s World Economic Forum and one of Abe’s pet projects at the G20, seeks to standardize rules in global movement of data flows with better protection in personal information, intellectual property and cybersecurity.

After the meeting, 24 countries formally signed a statement affirming the contents of the Osaka Track concept — though India, Indonesia and South Africa were conspicuously absent.

Abe said digitally driven economies can spark innovation and encourage economic growth. But in order to do so, there needs to be a reliable set of rules for the free flow of data.

“Unleashing such potential for maximum utility requires international rules that are in sync with the rapid progress of digitalization,” Abe said. “Most importantly rule-making on data flow and e-commerce, which are the growth engines in the digital area, is an urgent mission.”

Trump threw his support behind Abe’s plan, saying the free flow of data is an integral part of the American digital economy’s success, along with strong privacy and intellectual property protections, and access to capital and innovation.

“The digital economy is a crucial driver of economic growth. At the same time, as we expand digital trade, we must also ensure the resilience and security of our 5G networks,” Trump said, taking a subtle dig at Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei. “This is essential to our shared safety and prosperity.”

Huawei was effectively cut off from the U.S. market by the Trump administration due to alleged national security risks.

Abe said he hopes the Osaka Track will add momentum to e-commerce negotiations at the World Trade Organization. Seventy-eight countries and states have expressed their intention to participate in those negotiations.

But hurdles remain if Abe hopes to reach a formal agreement in the future.

Views on data and privacy vary across the globe. The European Union is apprehensive over data sharing outside of the bloc due to privacy concerns, while China and Russia, who signed the Osaka Track statement, are examples of two prominent G20 countries that have established their own data-transfer regulations.

Some stakeholders say these nations’ restrictive policies could hamper multinational business operations and stifle innovation.

But Xi defended his country’s policy Friday.

“The effective governance should promote collecting, analyzing and applying data, and all of the countries must individually manage data with order,” he said.

Although Abe had initially hoped to highlight the digital push at the G20 summit, it was later downgraded to a secondary event. The decision was made to avoid ostracizing the countries still on the fence about the Japanese proposal, according to a senior Japanese government official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomatic matters.

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