TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Mar17/13)
14 March 2017
Third World Network
ICs intensify efforts on e-commerce negotiations at MC11
Published in SUNS #8420 dated 13 March 2017
Geneva, 10 Mar (D. Ravi Kanth) -- Major developed countries have decided to
intensify their efforts for launching negotiations on several controversial
issues in electronic commerce at the World Trade Organization's eleventh ministerial
meeting in Buenos Aires later this year, trade envoys told SUNS.
Despite the setback suffered by these countries at a meeting of G20 trade
officials in Berlin last week, after India and South Africa firmly opposed a
concerted move by Australia to include language for negotiating e-commerce
rules at the WTO, fresh efforts are being mounted all over again to bring the
issue back, according to a trade envoy who asked not to be quoted.
At a meeting of the G20 sherpas on 2 March in Berlin, Australia along with
Canada and Singapore insisted on including language in the G20 leaders'
statement for negotiating rules/disciplines for e-commerce at the WTO.
A week before the Berlin meeting, Australia had circulated a two-page non-paper
in which it listed the issues that must be incorporated in the G20 statement
for the leaders' meeting under the presidency of Germany later this year.
The non-paper, reviewed by SUNS, has set out issues ranging from declaring
permanent prohibition for customs duties on electronic transmissions and a list
of "in-principle actions" that governments could take to support
Australia argued how G20 countries must play an important role in
"improving the environment for digital trade - by identifying ways to
lower the cost of digital trade for business and consumers, enabling more
reliable and resilient digital frameworks and networks, and building greater
confidence in e-commerce and ICT systems."
It called on G20 members to acknowledge the need for enabling "greater
participation in the digital economy, including micro, small, and medium
enterprises (MSMEs) and consider how to support digital trade in a development
The G20 initiatives, according to Australia, must include "trade
facilitation through improved cooperation on compliance" such as G20
countries agreeing in principle to "international cooperation on
non-discriminatory compliance requirements relating to digital trade."
Canberra argued that "G20 cooperation on WTO-consistent compliance
requirements will strengthen the international e-commerce frameworks and
facilitate greater confidence and predictability in the trade environment for
consumers, producers and governments and allow sustainable improvements in
trade facilitation outcomes."
For example, Australia suggested, "cooperation on compliance in
transaction standards would improve reliability and consumer confidence in
goods and services acquired through digital means."
Australia urged the G20 to "recommend that the WTO make the e-commerce moratorium
permanent" as "the moratorium on customs duties is a political
undertaking by all WTO Members not to impose tariffs on electronic
The current moratorium which has been in place since 1998 will expire in
December 2017 unless renewed by the WTO's eleventh ministerial meeting in
Buenos Aires later this year.
"The permanent moratorium would increase certainty and facilitate the
continued growth of e-commerce, including MSMEs," Australia maintained.
On "flow of data, privacy and security," Australia has urged the G20
countries to take a list of "in-principle actions that governments could
take to support digital frameworks" such as "promoting the flow of
information across borders, respect for privacy frameworks and data protection,
intellectual property rights and security."
The G20 must take next steps for policy options relating to "cross-border
data flows and associated cyber security, privacy and consumer protection
risks, localization barriers, and the threats to a reliable and resilient
digital environment," Australia emphasized.
Relevant international organizations such as the WTO must consider policy
options and their impacts, including on MSMEs, according to the non-paper.
G20 must agree on a set of principles that "go beyond the Trade
Facilitation Agreement to guide Members on the application of paperless
trading, electronic documentation and e-signatures and authentication,"
"Such principles could inform broader WTO discussion on the development of
future commitments in this area," Canberra maintained.
Australia also urged the G20 to continue to encourage ratification of the Trade
Facilitation Agreement by as many WTO members as possible and support WTO
members taking on commitments, even those which are required only on a best
At the two-day meeting of the G20 sherpas in Berlin last week, Australia along
with Canada and Singapore pressed for including the language as set out in the
India and South Africa firmly rejected the Australian move on grounds that
negotiating "rules" for e-commerce at the WTO is outside the 1998
Both India and South Africa maintained that the G20 must not suggest language
that is well outside the current work program, according to people who attended
The final compromise agreed by officials at the meeting suggests that G20
members will constructively engage in the discussion on e-commerce at the WTO
with the eleventh ministerial meeting in view, as suggested by Singapore, according
to people familiar with the development.
Under the Nairobi ministerial declaration of 2015, WTO members are required to
report progress on the e-commerce work program as agreed in 1998.
The Australian non-paper, according to participants, almost reflected the
issues raised in the WTO Secretariat's presentation during the G20 officials'
meeting during the Trade and Investment Working Group in Berlin last month.
The WTO Secretariat made a power-point presentation on e-commerce during the
G20 meeting in which it had argued for concrete outcomes at the WTO ministerial
In the Secretariat's slide on "further discussions towards a multilateral
outcome," the WTO official proposed the following bullet points:
(i) Transparent and inclusive discussions - Lay the ground for advancing work
(ii) Consider adopting general principles/best endeavour provisions on
(iii) Binding principles/obligations could be considered - TFA [Trade
Facilitation Agreement] approach - Flexibilities; TA [technical assistance] and
CB [capacity building]. Greater coherence; certainty; consumer confidence.
At the informal heads of delegations meeting on 23 February, India denounced
the WTO Secretariat for presenting its views on e-commerce which "remains
a highly contentious area in the WTO."
"We wonder what gives the WTO Secretariat the authority or the mandate to
propose next steps or multilateral outcomes on subjects on which discussions
have not even begun in the WTO," India asked.
More important, "were the contents of these presentations [on investment
facilitation, and e-commerce] discussed by members and was there a consensus on
the propositions contained therein that the WTO should be encouraged to launch
a dialogue on strengthening trade and investment policy coherence or that there
should be further discussions towards a multilateral outcome on
e-commerce," India asked.
India said the presentations by the Secretariat "seem to convey [to] my
delegation that the WTO Secretariat hold a brief for certain constituency of
members thereby raising a question on its impartiality and international
character as required in the Agreement Establishing the WTO."
Against this backdrop, the developing countries must stay on guard at the
insidious efforts made by Australia and the WTO Secretariat to bring e-commerce
by the backdoor at various forums in Geneva and outside, said a trade envoy who
asked not to be quoted. +