1. Handbook
  2. Subjects
  3. Digital Trade

Digital Trade (LAWS90126)

Graduate courseworkPoints: 12.5On Campus (Parkville)

You’re viewing the 2019 Handbook:
Or view archived Handbooks


Year of offer2019
Subject levelGraduate coursework
Subject codeLAWS90126
Availability(Quotas apply)
FeesSubject EFTSL, Level, Discipline & Census Date

International trade is being transformed by the globalisation of the internet and the ability to move data across borders. Small businesses and firms in developing countries are using internet platforms such as eBay and Alibaba to engage in international trade. Software, music and books that used to be traded physically are now being transmitted digitally across borders; lawyers, consultants and other professional services are using the internet to reach new markets. Data analytics and cloud computing have become essential tools for firms in domestic and international markets.

This subject will examine the impact of the internet and global data flows on international trade. Students will learn about the varied and innovative ways that the internet and data enable international economic activity. Students will look at how government regulation in areas such as privacy and national security affects digital trade and will examine the balance between achieving these goals and maximising opportunities for trade, growth and jobs. Students will learn about the extent to which international trade rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and free trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement support an open internet and global data flows; will identify gaps in law and practice; and will analyse where new global norms and rules are needed. Special topics covered may include: the opportunities of digital trade for developing countries and small and medium enterprises (SMEs); challenges posed by the 'Internet of Things' and privacy regulation; and digital trade and national security.

Joshua P Meltzer is a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC and adjunct professor at the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies where he teaches international trade law. He is a leading scholar on digital trade issues, consults governments, the World Bank and the World Economic Forum and was appointed an expert witness in digital trade and privacy litigation.

Principal topics include:

  • Overview of the globalisation of the internet including global trends in internet access and use
  • The economics of the internet - students will learn how internet access and global data flows are improving productivity, enabling innovation and expanding opportunities for global engagement
  • What is the impact of the internet and data flows on international trade? This will include the role of digital platforms and the increasing importance of digital services trade
  • What are the barriers to digital trade, who is erecting them and why? Students will learn about the regulatory challenges to digital trade in areas of consumer protection, financial and privacy laws and the different approaches being taken in the European Union, the United States and Australia, and consider how to achieve domestic regulatory goals while maximising digital trade
  • Applying international trade law to digital trade issues and identifying the legal gaps - students will analyse where existing international trade rules apply to digital trade issues. This will include analysis of WTO agreements and cases as well as new trade rules in free trade agreements. Gaps in trade law will be identified and students will consider whether new trade rules and norms are needed and where they can be negotiated.

Intended learning outcomes

A student who has successfully completed this subject will:

  • Be able to investigate, examine and analyse the impact of government laws and regulation on digital trade
  • Have an advanced and integrated understanding of the application of international trade law to digital trade challenges and opportunities
  • Be able to analyse and critically reflect on the tensions between expanding digital trade and achieving domestic regulatory goals
  • Be able to analyse and critically reflect on whether measures affecting digital trade are likely to achieve their desired regulatory goals and to demonstrate a sophisticated appreciation of the broader economic impacts of such measures
  • Have an advanced understanding of the limits of international trade law to digital trade challenges and be able to investigate and analyse where new international rules and/or norms are needed
  • Have the cognitive and technical skills to examine, research and analyse how the internet and data is changing the nature of international trade and economic growth
  • Have a sophisticated understanding of the various international economic forum (ie the World Trade Organization, Free Trade Agreements, APEC) where digital trade rules are being developed and be able to investigate, analyse and critically assess the opportunities and challenges to making progress in developing new rules and norms in each forum.
  • Have a sophisticated understanding of the politics and stakeholder interests that underpin international debate and negotiations on digital trade issues
  • Have the cognitive and technical skills to independently examine, research and analyse existing and emerging legal issues relating to digital trade
  • Have the communication skills to clearly articulate and convey complex information regarding digital trade to relevant specialist and non-specialist audiences, including in government, the private sector and civil society
  • Be able to demonstrate autonomy, expert judgement and responsibility as a practitioner and learner in the field of digital trade
  • Be able to research and apply digital trade law expertise to complex regulatory barriers.

Last updated: 27 August 2019