This month, lawmakers in the House of Representatives have before them a rare opportunity.  It’s one that can build true 21st-century trade rules that better meet our modern needs, and at the same time fully embrace the enormous role data and innovation will play in our future global economy.  That opportunity is passage of TPA (trade promotion authority legislation).

So what will TPA mean?

In short, TPA will bring how we trade into the 21st century, by helping conclude negotiations in the Asia-Pacific on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).  TPA will help usher in common-sense trade policy that better fits our economic strength and innovation potential.  For the first time, negotiators will be empowered to craft agreements that ensure data innovation is part of our global trade rules.  Without those rules, we have no way to challenge foreign barriers to our strongest industries like software.

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Our economy is changing in amazing ways, and so is our competitiveness in trade.  In the 1980s, we took stock of how our economy was changing and where our future strengths lay.  We found that we were innovators, so intellectual property protection was essential.  We also found that we were strong in a broad range of services.  But at that time there were not trade rules in place to ensure we could reap the full benefits from those advantages.  So the U.S. took the lead in negotiating strong trade rules to ensure we could take full and fair advantages of these strengths.

Over the past two decades, concrete objectives have been in short supply for a modernized trade agreement that opens doors to greater innovation, and opens more new markets for U.S. goods and services.  Yet here lies tremendous opportunity. 

Today, as we look to our economy, we are leaders in data and data services around the world.  As such, moving to a 21st-century trade approach could very well mean everything from greater economic development, more life-saving technologies and improved education, to faster emergency response, better earthquake predictions, and improved crops – and all on a global scale.

Nowhere would this continued progress be more pronounced than when it comes to the ability to move data across borders and around the world.  Yet in current law and trade agreements, we simply have no clear global trade rules when it comes to data.  This means governments currently can say that data cannot move.  Doing so reduces the vital answers and innovation that are at the very heart of shared data.

This matters, because using software to extract insights and answers from data is helping improve people’s lives around the world every day.  The quantity and quality of data answers are poised to deliver unparalleled dividends, with greater economic benefits that we could have imagined even a couple of decades ago.  Examples of the game-changing ways we all benefit from data in every corner of the world are countless, but consider just a few examples:

  • By tracking more than 1,000 data points a second, Canadian scientists found that prematurely born infants with unusually stable vital signs had a higher risk of developing fevers – allowing doctors to take action early, and save lives.
  • Using data analytics and marine sensors that monitor waves, currents, and other data, researchers are using data analytics to predict tsunamis and other natural disasters as well as their impact.
  • By relying on a decade of flight history data correlated with weather patterns, air travelers around the globe can now figure out which flights are likeliest to be on time.
  • Right here in the U.S., farmers are using data from seeds, satellites, sensors, and tractors to make better decisions about what to grow, how to grow it, how to track food freshness from farm to fork, and how to adapt to changing climates.

As our amount of existing and potential data grows worldwide, so does our need to more freely share it across borders.  For context, consider:  Ninety percent of data that exists today was created in the last two years.  And how much data is that?  An “exabyte,” or one billion gigabytes, is equal to 500 billion pages of text – and well over two exabytes of data are being created every day.  Combine this with how Internet access is now widespread, and financial, agricultural and manufacturing companies increasingly depend on their ability to move data across borders.  This dynamic influences so much for so many people and businesses in today’s world.

Modernizing our trade policy and opening borders to data innovation should be viewed by our lawmakers as the opportunity of a lifetime – not something to be feared or neglected.  They have a huge opportunity to take action, and in the process, help usher in a more economically secure future of innovation, growth, and better quality of life.

Here’s hoping they seize it.

Espinel serves as CEO and president of BSA | The Software Alliance, a Washington, DC-based coalition which advocates for the global software industry before governments and in the international marketplace.