Despite being amongst his biggest donors, the new President Elect Joe Biden ran his campaign with a tougher line on big tech than the incumbent president, Trump. Yet, the incoming leader continues to draw unanimous popularity in Silicon Valley and with tech companies across the globe ‘ it is worth taking pause then and asking why, and what the new leader of the free world will mean for the global sector.
For Big Tech companies, Biden still intends to impose stringent antitrust measures, as well as tough taxation and privacy regulations. However, with his history as the Vice President of a Silicon Valley-friendly Obama Administration ‘ and California-elected Kamala Harris to his right ‘ his victory is the outcome of choice compared to Trump’s ongoing allegations of anti-conservative bias from social media giants.
Equally, Biden’s approach to immigration reform suggests he will be more favourable to international tech firms, particularly given how regularly US tech companies come up against caps limiting the number of overseas employees who can obtain visas. Compared to Trump’s resistance to the H1-B visa route, Biden’s more accommodating stance on temporary and permanent employment immigration policies are a clear positive for the tech industry.
Overseas, there are hopes that Biden will be more open to a multi-lateral approach on key regulatory issues such as a digital tax. Following the lack of involvement from the Trump Administration with OECD talks on digital tax matters, bringing the US back to the table will help to potentially heal the Transatlantic division caused by the imposition of retaliatory tariffs in response to European countries progressing with a tax impacting US tech firms.
More broadly, Biden and his party are considered more internationalist in stance and practice and are backing away from the ‘America First’ approach. We should expect to see the US engaging with supranational organisations and the world’s most important international bodies once more. These institutions are increasingly looking at major issues concerning tech. Taxing large digital business is a core concern, but equally cyber has become a favoured weapon for many actors to cause havoc around the world. AI and robotics are going to dramatically alter economies and societies. Whilst the humanitarian challenge of climate change and its technology-enabled solutions dominate. International coordination on these issues, with the US at the table ‘ is going to be central for the global tech community.
Following the ongoing US Trade War and strained relationships between the Trump Administration and the Chinese Government, there are also hopes that Biden’s more collaborative approach could also ease some of these tensions. However, US restrictions on the likes of Huawei have already had serious implications for network infrastructure around the world. It is likely that Biden will take a more lenient stance on trade tariffs, but will remain cautious when it comes to cybersecurity and IP theft, given the focus of his broader policies on data privacy.
For the UK, this Democratic victory presents something of an unknown when it comes to negotiating a post-Brexit trade deal, particularly on topics such as data flows, although we know that Biden is in favour of GDPR-style privacy regulation. It is likely that this will happen but perhaps not until 2022.
The timing of this US presidential election in relation to Brexit is important. There are opposing views on who would have provided Britain with the most favourable terms in a free trade agreement with the US, Trump or Biden. We do know that Boris Johnson and Joe Biden have already exchanged communications and there are positive tones coming from Downing Street that the special relationship is strong. For tech this will be welcomed as many in the sector are hoping that the UK retains its ‘gateway’ status in Europe. London has for some time acted as a steppingstone for many European digital ventures, that firstly relocate to the UK Capital in search of world-class talent and financing before exploring routes into the US market. Under a Biden administration the UK will want to hold on to this but once out of the EU in 2021, will need to find new means to remain a competitive hub for the world’s most exciting tech startups and scaleups.
Ultimately, the UK and global tech sectors can be hopeful that this Biden victory will bring with it a more collaborative approach to international digital diplomacy, as the Administration looks to rebuild relationships with allies around the world. It is also clear that tech has an important role to play in what comes next for lots of countries recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic – a Biden government, I hope will prove a more cooperative partner for tech in its endeavour to build back throughout the US, Europe and beyond.