TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Sept19/10)
25 September 2019
Third World Network

JSI members seek market access outcomes in e-com pluri-talks
Published in SUNS #8984 dated 25 September 2019

Geneva, 24 Sep (D. Ravi Kanth) - Negotiations for an e-commerce pluri-deal are being turned by members of the informal Joint Statement Initiative (JSI) group into negotiations for market access outcomes for electronic goods and services, trade envoys told the SUNS.

New "streamlined working texts" issued for discussions that began on Tuesday (24 September) at the WTO clearly indicate that the JSI members will first iron out their differences on issues covering "facilitating electronic transactions," "non-discrimination and liability", "consumer protection", and "transparency and cooperation."

These four issues are largely concerned with facilitating market access in goods as well as in services that could make the existing provisions in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) almost redundant, said a trade envoy, who asked not to be identified.

The 23-page streamlined working texts obtained by the SUNS suggests that the JSI participants, including all major developed and many developing countries, will first tackle the four issues in four different groups formed for the September cluster of meetings that would continue till 27 September.

The restricted streamlined working texts suggest what issues ought to be discussed by the four groups.

For example, "Focus Group A" on facilitating electronic transactions will discuss: (1) electronic transactions frameworks, (2) electronic authentication and electronic signatures, (3) electronic contracts, and (4) electronic invoicing.

Textual proposals by JSI participants on these four issues with alternatives are listed in square brackets.

"Focus Group B" will hold discussions on "non-discrimination and liability" that includes issues such as (1) non-discriminatory treatment of digital products, (2) interactive computer services (limiting liability), and (3) interactive computer services (expanding liability).

"Focus Group C" on consumer protection will cover two issues concerning (1) online consumer protection and (2) unsolicited commercial electronic messages.

"Focus Group D" on transparency and cooperation will discuss issues such as (1) transparency, (2) domestic regulation, and (3) cooperation.

The facilitators for the JSI group negotiations - Japan, Australia, and Singapore - have suggested that "the working document has been designed to facilitate WTO negotiations on trade-related aspects of electronic commerce."

Meanwhile, China has circulated a comprehensive proposal with draft articles on what ought to be the "improvements in trade policies", given the "popularization of the internet" that has enabled rapid development of cross-border electronic commerce and new modes of trade.

China wants the JSI participants "to adjust their trade policies in a flexible manner for improvements" so as to adapt to new developments in trade in goods, policies of customs duties and charges, and internal taxes among others.

In a restricted seven-page proposal circulated on 20 September, China has proposed several draft articles to be negotiated as part of the plurilateral deal. China wants JSI members to specify their "non-tariff measures such as import quotas and licenses, and conformity assessment procedures."

China has suggested that members must strive for "enhanced trade facilitation" for facilitating "cross-border E-commerce where products are sold online and later physically delivered to consumers or buyers within their territories through measures including implementation of the Trade Facilitation Agreement."

China also wants the JSI participants to agree on "provision of trade facilitating and supportive services" such as services that would facilitate customs clearance, logistics, payment and its collection, and taxation among others.

China has urged JSI participants to discuss logistics services, electronic payment services, temporary entry and sojourn of electronic commerce-related personnel, paperless trading, and electronic commerce-related network equipment and products.

According to the Chinese proposal, the specific articles to be negotiated in the plurilateral deal include: (1) "Improvements to trade policies", (2) "Enhanced Trade Facilitation," (3) "Provision of Trade Facilitating and Supportive Services," (4) "Logistics Services," (5) "Electronic Payment Services," (6) "Temporary Entry and Sojourn of Electronic Commerce-related Personnel," (7) "Paperless Trading," and (8) "Electronic Commerce- related Network Equipment and Products."

Under the Article on "Electronic Commerce-related Network Equipment and Products," China has proposed that "no member shall prevent public telecommunications networks or their service suppliers, including value-added services, from choosing the supporting technologies [such as the 5G mobile telecommunication services provided by Huawei] of their networks and services, and/or electronic commerce-related network equipment and products related to the technologies."