Regulating Big Data in trade agreements


International trade agreements increasingly involve regulation of data flows. Because these rules affect cross-border applications of Big Data, policy-makers need to understand their implications. This project will explore the regulatory landscape for Big Data using relevant analytical tools.

​Portrait / project description (ongoing research project)

The aim of this project is to map the existing rules for Big Data applications and current Big Data policies in international, regional and bilateral trade agreements. Employing legal and analytical tools from international relations and political science, the project will also show how certain regulatory solutions and the political forces behind them have evolved over time. We will also analyse the changes in domestic law triggered by trade agreements and the ways in which they may limit present and future state actions in the context of Big Data. Finally, we will explore whether and how trade agreements should address questions of traditional data and Big Data, and how decision-makers can use the instruments of international trade law to reflect changes in the digital economy.


Regulating Big Data across borders poses a dilemma. On the one hand, this type of regulation challenges the sovereignty of states. On the other hand, it may constitute a significant barrier to free trade and impede the growth of the digital economy. Solving this dilemma involves difficult political choices. Decision-makers must have the necessary information and a profound understanding of the big picture to balance the trade-offs. Trade rules form an important part of this picture.


The project will demonstrate the ways in which international trade law applies to Big Data. It will also provide a detailed context for the sorts of decisions that policy-makers will need to take concerning Big Data in trade agreements. For example, should traditional data and Big Data be treated differently? And should there be specific rules governing privacy protection?


The estimated benefit from the project is significant. The data set we generate will be valuable in its own right and useful for other research and policy efforts. The project’s interdisciplinary research on regulating Big Data in trade agreements will be an important contribution to the existing literature and will strengthen Swiss competence in these global issues.

Original title

The Governance of Big Data in Trade Agreements: Design, Diffusion and Implications

Project leaders

  • Prof. Dr. ​Mira Burri, Universität Luzern
  • Prof. Manfred Elsig, World Trade Institute, Universität Bern



Further information on this content


Prof. Dr. Mira Burri Universität Luzern Frohburgstrasse 3
Postfach 4466
6002 Luzern

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