Negotiations on e-commerce advance aiming at new consolidated text by end of 2022

From 25-28 October the participants of the Joint Initiative on e-commerce (JSI) held a series of meetings aiming to speed up progress in the negotiations. The co-conveners of the Initative – Australia, Japan and Singapore – affirmed that negotiations reached a critical moment and urged participants to “find a good landing zone for the articles of existing small groups”.  A new ‘consolidated document’ – working documents that capture the progress made in the negotiations and serve as the basis for further work – is expected to be published by the end of 2022. Negotiations are currently taking place within small groups. In October, small groups on e-invoicing, cybersecurity, privacy and telecommunications met, and a small group on ‘information and communication technology (ICT) products that use cryptography’ was created.

Mauritius joins the WTO JSI on e-commerce

Mauritius joined the Joint Initiative on e-commerce, bringing the total number of participants to 87. During a cluster of meetings that took place in September, negotiators sought convergence on topics such as cyber security, privacy, telecommunications services, electronic invoicing and electronic transaction frameworks. A stocktaking effort is being put in place in order identify proposals that have not yet attracted universal support in the negotiations. The withdrawal of proposals from single proponents is being encouraged. According to the co-conveners of the Initiative, it is possible to achieve convergence on most issues by the end of 2022, but “this will require members to energize in those areas where no convergence has been reached and pull back where it has become clear there is not enough support”.

E-commerce discussions make progress at MC12

The 12th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC12) took place from 12 to 17 June, in Geneva. The Conference had already been postponed twice because of COVID-19-related restrictions.

During MC12, the co-conveners of the Joint Initiative issued a statement in which they welcomed “the good results achieved in the negotiations to date and remain committed to agreeing on a global set of digital trade rules as rapidly as possible.” They committed to issuing a revised Consolidated Negotiating Text by the end of 2022 and to revise the JSI’s working modalities to “seek expedited progress in the negotiations, including on the key issues of data flows and data localisation”.

The co-conveners also recognised barriers faced by least developed and developing countries to “utilise e-commerce for their benefit”. In response to these challenges, they launched the E-Commerce Capacity Building Framework. The Framework is expected to “bring together a wide range of technical assistance and capacity building efforts to support countries participating in the E-Commerce JSI” in order to help them harness the opportunity of digital trade. The co-conveners also expressed the support from JSI participants to the continuation of the moratorium on customs duties on electronic transmissions.

During MC12, a Ministerial Decision concerning the Work Programme on Electronic Commerce was approved. The decision renews the moratorium on customs duties on electronic transmissions and instructs and General Council to hold periodic reviews on the moratorium, including on its scope, definition and impact.  Member countries also agreed to reinvigorate the work under the Work Programme on Electronic Commerce, particularly in line with its development dimension.

WTO E-Commerce Moratorium

The World Trade Organization (WTO) adopts the Declaration on Global Electronic Commerce introducing a moratorium on duties in global e-commerce. This moratorium has been extended ever since.