The Push to Develop Global E-Commerce Rules

Australia is among a breakaway group of WTO members pushing to develop a global set of rules for e-commerce governing merchants, logistics providers and associated parties.

The inability of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to advance towards a global set of rules for e-commerce has prompted a number of countries to push to develop such a framework among themselves. The ‘maverick’ group incorporates most of the world’s heavyweight trading nations, including USA, Canada, the European Union, Japan, Korea, Australia and Brazil. Between them they account for 90% of global trade.

Within the WTO, e-commerce is defined as “the production, distribution, marketing, sale or delivery of goods and services by electronic means”. Currently there are no universal regulations for e-commerce, leaving online merchants, their logistics providers and other partners to navigate a patchwork of bilateral and regional agreements.

At the WTO’s biannual conference in December, some 25 separate proposals on rules for e-commerce were on the table, but the 164 members failed to reach a consensus to consolidate these and make headway towards a universal regime. This led to 76 member-states forging their own agreement, which they announced at the annual WTO gathering in Davos last month. Their objective is to negotiate rules to cover the “trade-related aspects of electronic commerce”. In a joint statement they declared: “We will seek to achieve a high-standard outcome that builds on existing WTO agreements and frameworks with the participation of as many WTO members as possible.”

Even with 76 members, the ‘maverick’ group remains a minority within the WTO. Many other members, especially developing nations, have expressed fears that global rules would tie the hands of national regulators and give multinational giants free reign. Among the countries opposed to global e-commerce rules are India and South Africa. The former demonstrated its determination to uphold national controls with the implementation of its own e-commerce regulations on 1st February.

There is also a considerable body of opinion that argues the WTO should focus on other issues first, such as agricultural subsidies in rich countries. Others argue for the elimination of duties on electronic transmissions, including streaming services.

Information source: The Loadstar

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