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WTO Filing: US Asks China Not to Enforce Cybersecurity Law

FILE - Visitors are seen at a social network company booth at the 2016 Global Mobile Internet Conference (GMIC) in Beijing, China, April 28, 2016. Last year, China passed a cybersecurity law that foreign companies say might isolate Chinese industries.

The United States has asked China not to implement its new cybersecurity law and is concerned it could damage global trade in services, a U.S. document published by the World Trade Organization showed on Tuesday.

China ushered in a tough new cybersecurity law in June, following years of fierce debate around the move that many foreign business groups fear will hit their ability to operate in the country.

The law requires local and overseas firms to submit to security checks and store user data within the country.

If China's new rules enter into full force in their current form, as expected by the end of 2018, they could impact cross-border services supplied through a commercial presence abroad, said the U.S. document, submitted for debate at the WTO Services Council.

"China’s measures would disrupt, deter, and in many cases, prohibit cross-border transfers of information that are routine in the ordinary course of business," it said. "The United States has been communicating these concerns directly to high level officials and relevant authorities in China," the U.S. document said, adding it wanted to raise awareness among WTO members about the potential impact on trade.

"We request that China refrain from issuing or implementing final measures until such concerns are addressed."

The two-page U.S. document said the measures causing concern included the Cybersecurity Law adopted in November 2016 and taking effect June 2017 and various implementing measures connected with that law and the July 2015 National Security Law.

The law obliges companies to store all data within China and pass security reviews, fitting China's ethos of "cyber sovereignty" - the idea that states should be permitted to govern and monitor their own cyberspace, controlling incoming and outgoing data flows. "The impact of the measures would fall disproportionately on foreign service suppliers operating in China, as these suppliers must routinely transfer data back to headquarters and other affiliates," the U.S. document said. "Companies located outside of China supplying services on a cross-border basis would be severely affected, as they must depend on access to data from their customers in China."

China maintains a strict censorship regime, banning access to foreign news outlets, search engines and social media, including Google and Facebook.