In an ever-more digital and data-driven world, it will become increasingly important for General Counsel to be able to navigate the web of digital protectionist laws (laws that prevent the overseas collaboration that is needed for technology to properly develop), in much the same way that they have needed to know about international trade of goods in the past to ensure their business can trade and develop successfully.
Gowling WLG's Protectionism 2.0 Report shows that legal barriers are being firmly thrown up by major players on the world stage - China, Russia, India, Vietnam, Argentina and Turkey - which will naturally limit and hinder their involvement in the development of technology. There is also a startling correlation between countries that pursue digitally protectionist policies and those that are protectionist in relation to their natural resources, which include the vital raw materials needed to make smartphones, connected devices and batteries for electric vehicles such as lithium and cobalt. This is all in stark contrast to the member states of the EU, which continues to foster their digital single market with laws designed to facilitate trade and collaboration across borders.
The ease with which data can be shared and transferred makes adhering to such laws a challenge as the laws are trying to constrain something which is fundamentally not bound by any physical or jurisdictional borders. GCs therefore need to ensure that they are part of their business' team involved in setting their digital strategy to navigate the web of restrictions and requirements and be alive to involvement of businesses in other countries.
General Counsel could be forgiven for focusing more on issues that appear more pressing such as their operational and trading needs given the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, and simply seeing digital protectionism as a side-line issue to focus on at a later date. Whilst that approach will ensure their business can trade after 'exit day', it jeopardises their future, which will be shaped by those who are at the forefront of the technological wave.
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