Reuters is reporting that an upcoming study (The New Digital Protectionism) by the European Center for International Political Economy, based in Brussels, argues that censorship of the Internet can be viewed as a trade barrier.
“Censorship is the most important non-tariff barrier to the provision of online services, and a case might clarify the circumstances in which different forms of censorship are WTO-consistent,” said the study by Brian Hindley and Hosuk Lee-Makiyama.
This is an interesting take on the points many of us have made that freedom of expression — including the all-important free media issue — is important for a stable society and accurate distribution of information.
From the Reuters’ story:
Internet censorship can have a serious impact on businesses, it said, noting how local search engine Baidu, which follows official rules on censorship, has overtaken global leader Google in the Chinese market.
There have even been reports that the authorities rerouted requests for Google.com and other international search engines to Baidu’s site.
In the third quarter of 2009 Baidu had 64 percent of the 2 billion yuan ($293 million) Internet search market in China, while Google had 31.3 percent.
Back in 2002, Baidu had 3 percent and Google 24 percent, the study said.
WTO rules allows for some trade restrictions to protect public morals or public order. And China regularly argues that the Great China Firewall is designed to protect the Chinese people from “spiritual pollution.”
Earlier this year the Chinese government decreed that all new computers sold in the country must include a piece of nanny software. Only after a team of computer geeks in the States took about the software and discovered the code was stolen from a U.S. program and China faced major WTO charges of intellectual property theft was the decree dropped.
It will be interesting to see what happens with this study. I wonder how much coverage it will get.