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What Happened at the G7 Digital and Tech Ministers' Meeting?

This G7 Digital and Tech Ministers outcome, with influences from Shinzo Abe's 2019 WEF speech, will guide leaders at the G7 Hiroshima Summit.

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Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Matsumoto and Digital Minister Kono attended the G7 Digital and Technology Ministerial Meeting. Held in Takasaki City, Gunma Prefecture on April 29-30. (© Kyodo)

Digital and technology ministers from the Group of Seven (G7) countries met in Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture, on April 29-30 for the G7 Digital and Tech Ministers' Meeting. 

Japanese Minister for Digital Transformation Taro Kono, Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) Takeaki Matsumoto, and Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Yasutoshi Nishimura co-chaired the meeting. Its results are important because the ministerial meeting's official outcome documents, declaration, and annexes will help inform the planned digital discussions that will take place during the leader-level G7 Hiroshima Summit from May 19-21. 

Former Prime Minister Abe

Japan's Long-term Digital Objectives

Japanese digital policy objectives have largely been shaped by then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's 2019 speech to the World Economic Forum (WEF). Abe called for data governance regimes and recognition of cross-border data flows as critical to innovation. He also called for economic growth, digital trade, and economic development, as well as recognition that cross-border data flows also raise challenges to privacy, intellectual property, security, and data protection. 

Abe's speech also proposed the concept of Data Free Flows with Trust (DFFT). Under this, the seamless flow of non-personal data across borders would also protect intellectual property, individual privacy, and national security. At the same time it would encourage interoperability of relevant frameworks.  

Japan's promotion of DFFT and other digital economy issues continued throughout 2019. Eventually it resulted in G20 economies — with the exception of India — agreeing to DFFT-related language as a part of the 2019 Osaka Leaders' Declaration

Due in large part to Japan's efforts, DFFT has reappeared in subsequent G20 meetings. It has shaped other policy declarations as well, including the release of the G7 Roadmap for Cooperation on DFFT, the G7 Action Plan for Promoting Data Free Flow with Trust, and others. 

In 2022 remarks at the WEF, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida took up Abe's mantle, pledging to take DFFT even further

tritium Fukuishima
Yasutoshi Nishimura, Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry

Japan's G7 Digital Approach and Priorities

In the lead up to this year's G7 Leaders' meeting, Japanese negotiators and officials adopted a regulatory-based and a trade-based approach to advancing and operationalizing DFFT. The regulatory track focuses on promoting interoperability between domestic regimes on intellectual property (IP), cybersecurity, and privacy issues to build trust between regulators. 

Efforts of the Trade track are focused on combating data localization regimes. Concurrently, they are working through international bodies such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) and bilateral arrangements, such as the US-Japan Digital Trade Agreement

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As a part of these tracks, Japanese leadership hopes to secure several agreements. Those include DFFT operationalization and multi stakeholder engagement on DFFT through the institutional framework. They also include aligning governments on common priorities, and recognizing the lack of general rules associated with DFFT. 

METI leadership has further called for the establishment of an Institutional Arrangement for Partnership on DFFT as a part of Japan's G7 presidency. However, questions remain regarding the definition of "trust" in DFFT and other issues. 

Digital Minister Taro Kono.

G7 Digital and Tech Ministers' Meeting

Output from Takasaki is the most important factor that will influence the G7 leader-level digital outcomes in Hiroshima this May. Under the co-chairship of Japanese ministers Kono, Matsumoto, and Nishimura, the meeting's official outcome documents will help inform the G7 Leaders' Summit digital discussions. 

According to the ministerial summit's official readout, six political agenda items dominated the discussion. They are: 

  • facilitation of cross-border data flows and data free flow with trust; 
  • secure and resilient digital infrastructure; 
  • internet governance; 
  • emerging and disruptive technologies in innovating society and economy; 
  • responsible AI and global AI governance; and 
  • digital competition. 

None of the digital ministerial meeting's official readouts and statements come as a real surprise. Still, the group's focus on artificial intelligence (AI) governance and roadmaps represented a slight change. This took place in the months leading up to the summit. 

The focus on AI has been seen as a reaction to the emergence of generative AI technologies such as ChatGPT. It also reflects the broader concerns about growing societal, economic, and security impacts of AI as the technology becomes more ubiquitous at all levels of society. 

The addition of AI regulations to the meeting's framework indicated Japan's desire to take a leading role on global AI regulation. That is similar to its emphasis on Data Free Flows with Trust. 

If the Leaders' Summit addresses AI regulation in May, representative states must resist efforts to stifle free speech and expression under regulatory guidelines. Instead, they will need to focus their efforts on other topics, such as competition, privacy, and AI data-related concerns. 

ChatGPT logo.

Additional Ministerial Outcomes

The G7 Digital and Technology Ministers meeting's annexes offer more in-depth analysis of how Japan — and other G7 nations — will likely address the six political agenda items in May. 

On Data Free Flows with Trust, ministers called for convening of stakeholders to develop several policies. For example, enabling data flows, identification of impediments and challenges to DFFT, identifying privacy-enhancing technologies for DFFT, and legal practices enabling DFFT. 

They also called for action on topics such as data localization, regulatory cooperation, trusted government access to data, and data sharing. These were key elements of both the 2021 Roadmap for Cooperation on DFFT and the 2022 Action Plan for Promoting DFFT. 

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Seeking Trust and Interoperability

On Artificial Intelligence, leaders supported interoperable tools for trustworthy and human-centric AI. In addition, they recognized the role AI could play in data-driven economies. 

They also supported the development of international standards in standard development organizations to encourage interoperability across AI governance frameworks. 

Overall, the ministers promoted dialogue through a G7 workshop on these topics. They further promoted collaboration across the OECD, and other international bodies. 

Taking on Future Networks Beyond 5G/6G, leaders also called for a list of goals. Those include end-to-end high-capacity and ultra-low latency networks, an increase in energy efficiency and reduction of environmental impacts associated with these networks. Moreover, there are multi-layered networks such as submarine cables and low earth orbit satellites. Increased frequency efficiency and calls for openness, interoperability, and modularity were also on their list. 

On Digital Infrastructure, leaders affirmed support for developing economies to build digital infrastructure and cybersecurity capacity. They shared a desire to cooperate with Small Island Nations developing states, committed to diverse telecommunication and ICT infrastructure, and sought enhanced cooperation on enhanced research and development (R&D).

The ministers also released annexes in support of the G7 Plan for Open, Free, Global, Interoperable, Reliable, and Secure Internet.

Hiroshima

Next Steps

The G7 Digital and Tech Ministers' Declaration will help guide the digital economy and technology discussions at the upcoming G7 Leaders' Summit. That meeting is set to begin on May 19 in Hiroshima. 

Japan will continue to advance their DFFT, AI governance, and digital trade priorities in the interim. They are seeking a global leadership or global convening roles coming out of the Leaders' Summit. These continue Japan's general policy trends since 2019. 

Outside of informing the leader-level discussions, the G7 Digital and Technology Ministers' meeting also has called for the convening of a digital competition summit in the fall of 2023. If its broader efforts are effective at the leader- and multistakeholder-level, this could be the first forum in which Japan attempts to institutionalize and implement DFFT and AI-related policy priorities that will be agreed upon at the G7 Leaders' Summit. 

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This competition summit could take place alongside or as a part of the in-person G7 Trade Ministers' Meeting that is scheduled to take place in Osaka-sakai from October 28-29, 2023. 

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Author: Erik M Jacobs