European Commission endorses provisions for data flows and data protection in EU trade agreements

The Commission has today endorsed horizontal provisions for cross-border data flows and personal data protection in trade negotiations. As the protection of personal data is a fundamental right in the EU, it cannot be subject to negotiations in the context of EU trade agreements. Data flows between the EU and third countries can be ensured using the mechanisms provided under the EU data protection legislation. As already underlined in the Commission’s Communication of 10 January 2017, “Exchanging and Protecting Personal Data in a Globalised World”, the preferred avenue for the EU are “adequacy decisions”. Dialogues on data protection and trade negotiations with third countries can complement each other but must follow separate tracks – like currently with Japan and South Korea. The Commission has looked into how best to advance the EU’s interests in this area – especially in cases where an “adequacy decision” (recognising an equivalent level of data protection of a third country) cannot be realistically reached in parallel to ongoing trade negotiations. This work was carried out by a project team lead by First Vice-President Timmermans. The draft text would allow the EU to tackle protectionist practices in third countries, while ensuring that such trade agreements cannot be used to challenge the strong EU rules on the protection of personal data. The Commission is now informing the other European institutions, as well as the European Data Protection Supervisor and the Article 29 Working Group of data protection authorities on its position in accordance with the usual procedures. The Commission’s position today will determine its approach to data flows and data protection in trade agreements until the end of the mandate.