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76 WTO member countries, regions support talks on new e-commerce regulations

WTO boss. Roberto Azevedo, Director-General of the World Trade Organization speaks at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, January 24, 2019. (REUTERS PHOTO)

DAVOS – A total of 76 World Trade Organization (WTO) members have agreed to start negotiating a set of open and predictable regulations governing the growth of e-commerce. The members included the United States, the European Union and Japan, among others.

E-commerce global value

E-commerce, or online trade in goods and services, has become a huge component of the global economy. A WTO report put the total value of e-commerce in 2016 at $27.7 trillion, of which nearly $24 trillion was business-to-business transactions.

Reuters reported that on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, negotiators from the 76 countries and regions agreed on Friday January 25 to hammer out an agenda for negotiations they hope to kick off this year on setting new e-commerce rules.

“…there are no solid rules on e-commerce,” Japan’s Trade minister Hiroshige Seko told reporters in Davos.

In their joint statement, the members of the coalition said: “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.”

China wants better drafting

China signalled conditional support for the initiative but said it should also take into account the needs of developing countries.

The country’s WTO ambassador Zhang Xiangchen said the e-commerce declaration “could have been better drafted” but Beijing was still willing to co-sponsor it and would play an active role in the exploratory talks.

But Beijing’s call for “full respect [to be] accorded to the reasonable requests of developing members” could increase friction with Washington, which says the WTO must stop giving special treatment to countries such as China that call themselves “developing”.

India absent

Another Asian giant, India, did not join the initiative. It had said the WTO should finish off the stalled talks in a previous round before moving into new areas.

Last year, the WTO’s 164 members failed to consolidate some 25 separate e-commerce proposals at a conference at Buenos Aires in December, including a call to set up a central e-commerce negotiating forum.

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