Digital Trade and Dispute Settlement in RTAs: An Evolving Standard?

39 Pages Posted: 3 Jan 2019 Last revised: 15 Jun 2019

Date Written: November 26, 2018


There were 288 regional trade agreements in force at the end of 2018, approximately one quarter (27%) of which included digital trade provisions. These e-commerce chapters have evolved from simple statements, to more comprehensive attempts to cultivate digital trade. This article tests the hypothesis that as e-commerce chapters have become more common and more detailed, their legal enforceability has also risen. Enforceability is measured using a qualitative empirical analysis of 78 e-commerce chapters in regional trade agreements (RTAs) notified to the World Trade Organization. The first section reviews recent initiatives to map and track e-commerce provisions in RTAs. The second section uses count data and text-as-data to develop a time-sequence, process tracing examination of the relationship between e-commerce chapters and dispute settlement. The analysis emphasizes the trajectory of development, from earliest related provisions in 2001 to next-generation agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the new North American agreement, the USMCA. The conclusion provides a discussion of the consequences of this evolving relationship for the multilateral governance of trade at the WTO.

Keywords: digital trade, regional trade agreement, World Trade Organization, e-commerce, international economic law, trade

JEL Classification: F13, F15, F42, F55, K33

Suggested Citation

Froese, Marc D., Digital Trade and Dispute Settlement in RTAs: An Evolving Standard? (November 26, 2018). Available at SSRN: or

Marc D. Froese (Contact Author)

Burman University ( email )

6730 University Drive
Lacombe, Alberta T4L 2E5

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