Excellences, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,
it is for me a great honour and pleasure to welcome you at this conference on "Privacy in a
This event could not have taken place at a better time, few weeks after the EU and Mercosur concluded a historical agreement reflecting and further strengthening our strong political, economic and cultural bounds.
And these developments are not limited to Mercosur countries: yesterday I arrived in Buenos Aires from Santiago where in these very days the modernization of the EU-Chile association agreement is being negotiated.
The objective of the EU is to build a unique strategic partnership with the whole region. We want to build bridges, not walls.
The foundation of this partnership is based on common interest and shared values such as democracy, rule of law and indeed data protection.
Data protection as a fundamental individual right is an essential element of our identity and dignity as a human beings.
Data protection is also a democratic imperative at a time where the integrity of our electoral processes, the very functioning of our democracy is threatened by misuse of data.
And data protection is an economic necessity: without citizens’ trust in the way their data is handled, there can be no sustainable growth of our increasingly data-driven economy.
This is true in Europe as it is true in this region of the world. According to a recent survey, probably due to the recent scandals and massive data breaches such as the one related to Facebook/Cambridge Analytica, a majority of people around the world are more concerned about their online privacy than they were one year ago. The biggest increase being in Latin American countries.
As you know, Europe’s legislation, the General Data Protection Regulation, is a key element of Europe’s response to the challenges and opportunities brought by the digital transformation.
When the GDPR entered into force in May 2018, I noted that this happened roughly one year after the adoption of the Ibero-American Data Protection Standards. For me this was much more than just a fortunate coincidence; it reflected how much we have in common in this area.
Since then, many new developments have confirmed this impression: Brazil that has adopted it first ever comprehensive data legislation or Chile that has amended its constitution to introduce the right to privacy and announced the creation of an independent data protection authority or Argentina where President Macri presented a bill to, here I quote, "to adapt Argentinean law to more modern international standards such as the GDPR".
It is also remarkable that the first non-member of the Council of Europe that signed last year in Strasbourg the text of the modernized "Convention 108", the only multilateral data protection treaty, comes from Latin America: Uruguay.
This shows how regional integration and global convergence can meet, complement each other, and in this way bring new opportunities. This will be the topic of the first panel this morning.
And in fact our systems are increasingly converging on the basis of common principles such as the protection of personal data as a fundamental right, the need for an omnibus legislation covering all types of processing operations, rather than sector-specific rules, a core set of enforceable rights and oversight by an independent authority.
This type of convergence based on our shared values can bring very tangible benefits, for instance by greatly facilitating trade. There is simply no way to exploit the full potential of a trade agreement without facilitating also the free flow of data - with trust.
But is also benefits us because it enables our public authorities to cooperate better, including in the area of law enforcement. And effective law enforcement nowadays also relies more and more on the exchange of personal information.
And these developments are not limited to Europe and Latin America, they are part of a more global trend.
Today more and more countries around the world are adopting new privacy laws or are modernizing existing ones on the basis of increasingly convergent principles. For example, in Asia, countries like India and Indonesia are considering following the path opened by Japan and Korea some time ago.
Few weeks ago, the Osaka G20 Leaders’ declaration recognized the importance of data protection as a trade enabler, calling for data flows with trust.
In other words, in the digital era, convergence in data protection standards pays off, as shown by the recent mutual adequacy arrangement we put in place with Japan whereby we created the world's largest area of free and safe data flows. This mutual adequacy finding complements and enhances the benefits of the free trade agreement that Japan and the EU also concluded recently.
Latin American countries could greatly benefit from similar synergies between trade and data protection instruments.
We are certainly interested to explore the possibility to adopt similar adequacy findings with respect to Latin American countries. This was the main purpose of my visit to Chile this week.
In parallel, we want to strengthen the adequacy decisions that were adopted under the previous EU data protection framework, as the one concerning Argentina, to ensure their continuity and their further development under the GDPR.
This adequacy decision has become even more important today in terms of competitive advantage, market access and business opportunities following the conclusion of the EU-Mercosur agreement, as trade relies increasingly on the exchange of data.
We will probably hear more about this in the second panel of this conference. This is also why we have been observing with great interest the most recent developments in Argentina, such as the strengthening of the independence of the data protection authority, with whom we are hosting today’s conference, and the new bill that has been introduced before the National Congress.
Let me close by encouraging Latin American countries to continue their journey on this convergence path. In this way they will not only ensure a more effective protection of the rights of their citizens and enhance the integration of their businesses in the global data-driven
economy, they will also contribute to shape the development of global privacy standards when there is a growing demand for "common rules of the game" at the international level.
I'm convinced that with such great speakers and interesting panels, we’ll have stimulating and productive debates.
I wish you all the best and hope to see you soon, in Europe or in Latin America!