The United States and the European Union enjoy one of the healthiest trade relationships on the planet. The nearly $1.06 trillion [€770 billion] of goods and services theyexchange each year accounts for almost one-third of the annual trade flows worldwide. And yet, even figures that large may be only the tip of the iceberg. As digital technology becomes ever more pervasive and the world economy morphs into fundamentally new shapes and configurations – forming and re-forming around the radically simple and cheap communication made possible by the Internet – the foundation of economic life is shifting, too. These days, Europe and the U.S. no longer compete head-to-head over something as basic as who can field the best home-based team to get the finest results. Instead, they compete as leaders of complex supply chains with design, manufacture and ultimately consumption spread around the globe in a multifaceted and unprecedented way. They compete to offer advanced products and services, many of which will be delivered digitally to customers in far away destinations, whom the salesman will never know and likely never meet. And they struggle – under these intensely new circumstances – to make heads or tails of a fast-moving reality, where decisions that will determine our fate tomorrow need to be made in real time today.
Obviously, this is knowledge-intensive work, and that’s precisely the point. More and more, global trade has come to rely on a vital new commodity: data. Data is how a modern company understands and serves its customers better. Data is what gives managers their understanding into what is happening around the world. And, increasingly, data is the product itself, serving as the raw material for new insights put forward as new services, and as the reservoir of a creative economy where knowledge is often diffused horizontally without the intermediaries whose role in commerce defined the pre-data economy. Put simply, data and the consumption of data are not just a new natural resource – they are the key commodity in today’s knowledge-based economy. They are the essential element whose mastery (or incompetence) will determine which regions succeed and which regions fail, who will create and own the new jobs, and who will serve primarily as passive consumers of other people’s digital services. The way we use data, the speed and effectiveness with which we collect it, analyse it – and ultimately share it – will set the winners from the losers in this very modern world of cheap computing power, increasingly irrelevant national boundaries and additional-marginal-cost-free global interconnection.