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Economy

Abe calls on world to prepare for bytes without borders

Tokyo seeks data exchanges with US and Europe to keep up with China

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for a global free flow of data that was also regulated to protect privacy and security at the World Economic Forum.   © Reuters

ZURICH -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for a global system to govern the easy flow of data across borders, as he spoke Wednesday at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum.

"We must enable the free flow of medical, industrial, traffic and other most useful, nonpersonal, anonymous data," said Abe, who was attending the annual meeting of international political and business leaders in Davos for the first time in five years.

Abe envisions such a framework being negotiated through the World Trade Organization.

The Japanese leader argued that lifting national barriers to the transfer of data propels economic activity and narrows the gap between rich and poor.

"The engine for growth is fueled no longer by gasoline, but more and more by digital data," Abe said.

But Japan hopes to forge a balanced approach that regulates data transfer in order to protect privacy and security.

"We must be able to put our personal data and data embodying intellectual property [or] national security intelligence under careful protection," Abe said.

Abe's push comes as Japan races to develop artificial intelligence. China possesses an advantage in this research because the nation's tech giants such as Baidu, Alibaba Group Holding and Tencent Holdings harvest massive amounts of data from the country's population of 1.3 billion. China, however, only allows this data to be held internally.

This kind of big data serves as a source of competitiveness for businesses. The larger the volume, the more accurate the development of AI that can make predictions and improve productivity.

Barriers such as differences in language and formats hamper data flow among Japan, the U.S. and Europe.

Japan excels in accumulating industrial data from factories, while U.S. tech companies like Google are adept at collecting vast amounts of consumer data from the internet. If these economies work with Europe, a leader in personal privacy protection, Tokyo believes they can create an international network of data distribution that benefits various industries.

The first step involves setting rules with the European Union.

On Wednesday, the European Commission adopted the adequacy decision regarding Japan's data protection standards, meaning it considers them equivalent to those of the EU. The General Data Protection Regulation, introduced in May, prohibits data transfer beyond the bloc except for countries and territories that meet the adequacy condition.

Abe also called for coordination among the U.S., EU and Japan in reforming the World Trade Organization to advocate for free trade. The three sides "must join forces to facilitate changes within the WTO, especially its rules for government subsidies," Abe said.

This statement appeared aimed at China, given criticism that Beijing's excessive subsidies distort the competitive landscape.

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