The imposition of restrictions on the movement of information, particularly financial data or personal data, also risks changing the landscape. I could not have booked my hotels or paid for my car rental, if I had been unable to move my own data across borders. Yet governments are increasingly interested in stopping exactly these types of transactions. Not simply to keep me from traveling, of course, but a collateral impact of many poorly thought-through policies will be to hamper the freedom of consumers to operate globally and for firms to attract customers from anywhere. Even restrictions on the location of data servers could impact my ability to book hotels in Greece. It could easily drive up the costs of delivering services and make it too costly for some smaller firms, like tiny hotels in Arachova, to advertise on some sites.
Larger regional agreements, like RCEP, provide the size and scale in an agreement that can unleash new growth prospects. To get there, however, requires officials, ministers and leaders to seize the chance and create something special. RCEP has to address barriers to trade in services, for example. Services are critically important to the economy of the future. Even trade in goods requires that services be considered, since blockages on the movement of services across borders can fundamentally impede the growth of trade in physical products like manufactured goods and agricultural items. Increasingly, services will be provided digitally. One such example is the rise of online travel agencies (OTAs.) These service providers represent a new dimension to travel and tourism, as they match up customers seeking things like accommodation, rental cars, or local experiences like cooking classes or photography tours with local providers and vendors of such services.
The promise of e-commerce and digital trade is that it can empower individuals and firms from anywhere to find customers, suppliers, and engage in trade globally. It has enabled the tiniest companies to become “micro-multinationals.” A first customer can literally be found across the world. But this promise is sometimes harder to implement than it first appears. In Fiji and other Pacific island states, the potential seems to remain largely just that—a promise rather than a reality. Why this might be so is a bit puzzling.