Abstract: The ever-expanding regulatory scope of “new generation” trade agreements has created new linkages, and thus, new spheres of political conflicts opposing advocates of trade liberalization and free trade critics seeking to make globalization more socially responsible. Scholars have provided different explanations to understand the determining factors behind attempts to re-embed trade, but little attention has been given to the persistence of “trade disconnects”—as opposed to trade linkages—between economic issues and social or environmental externalities that, at the domestic level, can hardly be dissociated. This article proposes to analyze the dynamics and factors of what might be described as persistent disconnects or enduring “disembeddedness” in US trade policy-making. To do so, it examines US digital trade policy and its mixed social record by comparing two issues: labor rights and data privacy. This article builds upon recent scholarship on deliberative forms of exclusion in trade policy-making to track the hidden dynamics of “non-decision-making.” It demonstrates that discursive, institutional, inter-scalar, and countermobilizing processes have restricted the terms of political participation and perpetuated a disconnect between digital trade and labor rights, by contrast with the growing trade linkages with data privacy.
Keywords: data privacy; digital labor; digital platforms; digital trade policy; gig economy; labor standards; trade linkages; US trade policy; workers’ rights