Google calls for governments to protect web trade

Google has urged Western nations to challenge a growing list of internet restrictions in China and around the world as a violation of global trade rules.

Google calls for governments to protect web trade

“More than 40 governments now engage in broad-scale restriction of online information, a tenfold increase from just a decade ago,” the search engine giant said in a policy brief that follows a censorship battle with China this year.

“These actions unnecessarily restrict trade, and left unchecked, they will almost certainly get worse.”

With worldwide internet commerce projected to soon reach $1 trillion, it is important to thousands of US companies that China and other countries only be allowed to censor or restrict information in exceptional circumstances, Google said.

The California-based company, which in the first quarter of 2010 earned more than half of its revenues outside the United States, has had rocky relations with Chinese authorities since it announced in January it would no longer censor search results in mainland China.

It began rerouting visitors to its China website to a separate uncensored site in Hong Kong, but eventually changed the setup so mainland China users had to click on a link to go to the Hong Kong site.

China is the world’s largest internet market with 420 million users.

Google had about 25% of the market in the third quarter, a distant second to Baidu, a Chinese company that had about 73%, according to technology research firm IResearch.

Web trade threat

In its paper, Google argued that government restrictions on the free flow of information threatened a broad array of US companies, including other well-known internet names such as Facebook, Twitter, eBay and Amazon.

Washington should insist regulation of the internet follow basic principles of the World Trade Organisation’s services pact, which require rules be clearly stated, administered in a way that does not discriminate against foreign companies and that decisions can be reviewed, Google said.

Governments that invoke a “public order” exception for an internet restriction should be pressed, consistent with WTO rules, to explain why the measure is necessary to achieve the government’s objective and to show why a less restrictive alternative would not achieve the same result, Google said.

The company also urged the United States, the European Union and other governments to take “concrete steps to ensure that rules in the next generation of trade agreements reflect new challenges of internet trade.”

This should be pursued as part of the Doha round of world trade talks and in bilateral and regional free trade pacts that the United States and the EU are negotiating, Google said.

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