An online tool to extricate the web of digital trade regulation


The Digital Trade Integration Project, funded by CIVICA Research, published an interactive database covering over 120 countries.

According to an estimate published by the European Commission, digital trade, defined as commerce that is enabled by electronic technologies, was worth €3.2tn globally in 2019 and is regulated by an intricate web of national and supernational provisions. 

“Thanks to the Digital Trade Integration Project (DTI), one of the projects financed by CIVICA Research and co-funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program, the regulatory web of Digital Trade is now easier to unravel,” said Laurent Manderieux, Adjunct Professor of Global Law of Business and New Technologies at Bocconi University. “An online, open-access database on digital trade regulations that covers over 120 countries is now available to anyone.” 

The interactive database allows users to conduct empirical research to identify high-potential areas for digital integration both regionally and globally, as well as increasing transparency on digital trade policies across the world. 

Initially launched in the summer of 2021 with a group of professors and researchers from CIVICA Research partners (EUI as the lead, Bocconi University, Hertie School, and LSE), this project attracted the attention and trust of several other institutions and international organizations that decided to join the Academic Team and provide a diverse, multi-disciplinary global background. These include the European Centre for International Political Economy (ECIPE), the Digital Cooperation Organization, the Jean Monnet Network Trade & Investment in Services Associates, and the UN Economic Commissions for Asia and the Pacific (UN-ESCAP); for Africa (UN-ECA); and for Latin America and the Caribbean (UN-ECLAC).  Martina Ferracane and Bernard Hoekman (EUI) are leading the DTI Research Group and Manderieux, as Bocconi member of the DTI team, leads the Bocconi Researchers Team, which concentrates on Digital Trade Integration and adverse barriers in European and other countries in the field of Intellectual Property Rights and Unfair Competition. 

Indeed, as there is no single agreed-upon definition of the immense area of digital trade, the DTI Project focuses on all components of this new wave of commerce, including ICT and ICT-related goods, online services (comprising sectors that go from e-retailing to cloud computing), investment in sectors relevant for the digital economy (including telecommunications and computer services), and regulations of personal and non-personal data. Regulations on digital trade are present in many fields of economic activity and they range from policies on Intellectual Property Rights (e.g., restrictions to patent enforcement, or lack of clear digital copyright exceptions), to policies related to competition in the telecommunications sector. 

The 65 categories of policies covered in the analysis are detailed in this working paper and include both policies that restrict digital trade and policies that enable it. 

For every query to the new database, the user, helped by a dropdown menu, can choose up to two countries, a pillar (an area of regulation) and a sub pillar (a specific type of policy within the selected area). The system will display all the relevant (national and supernational) regulations affecting the topic in the chosen countries, and therefore help academics and policymakers to better find their way and understand digital trade issues. 

The next step of the DTI Project is to design an index on digital trade integration. The index, based on the dataset, will facilitate analysis and allow for international comparisons of digital trade regulation. 

If you want to stay updated, you can now subscribe to the DTI Project newsletter here

Written by Fabio Todesco (Bocconi University)