E-commerce

Updates

Singapore's Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat has announced a goods and services tax on imported digital services, such as 'movie and music streaming services and mobile apps', to come into effect from 1 January 2020. The measure is aimed to create a 'fair and resilient' tax system for the modern economy, and to ensure that foreign services are treated the same as those that are locally created. Currently, the country can only tax imported digital services from companies that have an establishment in Singapore. With the new regulation, online service providers that meet certain criteria will need to register themselves with the Singaporean authorities to continue offer their services. The tax does not apply to physical goods that are bought online.

Voting 557 to 89, the European Parliament adopted new regulation that bans most types of geoblocking. Geoblocking restricts Internet content to particular geographic locations, which, for example, allows companies to charge different fees in different locations. The regulation aims to facilitate cross-border access to online services, on the same terms, within the EU, preventing the restriction or discrimination of content in particular locations. An exemption has been made for copyrighted material, which can remain blocked in locations across the EU. This exception, which will be re-examined in 2020, has been criticised by consumer rights organisations, claiming that ‘from the consumer’s point of view, this makes no sense at all.’ The ban is expected to enter into force by the end of 2018, after the formal approval by EU member states.

Trade negotiations between the European Union and several Latin American countries are picking up in the new year. EU-Mexico talks have resumed in January. The talks on the EU-Mercosur are also expected to resume shortly, after efforts to reach a conclusion at the margins of the WTO 11th Ministerial Conference failed because of remaining differences, such as market access for beef and ethanol. Also on the docket is a planned modernisation of the EU’s trade accord with Chile.

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E-commerce has been one of the main engines promoting the growth of the Internet over the past 15 years. The importance of e-commerce is illustrated by the title of the document that initiated the reform of Internet governance and established ICANN: the 1997 Framework for Global Electronic Commerce, which states that ‘the private sector should lead’ the Internet governance process and that the main function of this governance will be to ‘enforce a predictable, minimalist, consistent, and simple legal environment for commerce’. These principles are the foundation of the ICANN-based Internet governance regime.

The choice of a definition for e-commerce has many practical and legal implications. Specific rules are applied depending on whether a particular transaction is classified as e-commerce, such as those regulating taxation and customs.

 

For the US government, the key element distinguishing traditional commerce from e-commerce is the online commitment to selling goods or services. This means that any commercial deal concluded online should be considered an e-commerce transaction, even if the realisation of the deal involves physical delivery. For example, purchasing a book via Amazon.com is considered an e-commerce transaction even though the book is usually delivered via traditional mail. The WTO defines e-commerce more precisely as: ‘the production, distribution, marketing, sale, or delivery of goods and services by electronic means’. The EU approach to e-commerce deals with ‘information society services’ that cover ‘any service normally provided  for remuneration, at a distance, by means of electronic equipment for the processing (including digital compression) and storage of data, and at the individual request of a recipient of a service’.

 

The WTO and e-commerce

As the key policy player in modern global trade, the WTO has established a system of agreements regulating international trade. The major treaties are the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) dealing with the trade in goods, the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), and the Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). Within this framework, the WTO regulates many relevant e-commerce issues, including telecommunication liberalisation, IPR, and some aspects of ICT development.

Although e-commerce has been on the WTO’s diplomatic back-burner, various initiatives have arisen and a number of key issues have been identified.

 

Other international e-commerce initiatives

One of the most successful and widely supported international initiatives in the field of e-commerce is the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model Law on Electronic Commerce. The focus of the Model Law is on mechanisms for the integration of e-commerce with traditional commercial law (e.g. recognising the validity of electronic documents). The Model Law has been used as the basis for e-commerce regulation in many countries.

Another initiative designed to develop e-commerce is the introduction of e-business XML (ebXML) by the United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/123 CEFACT).

The OECD’s activities touch on various aspects related to e-commerce, including consumer protection and digital signatures. The OECD emphasises promotion and research regarding e-commerce through its recommendations and guidelines.

UNCTAD is particularly active in research and capacity-building, focusing on the relevance of e-commerce to development. Every year it monitors the evolution of the information economy in a report which assesses the role of new technologies in trade and development.

In the business sector, the most active international organisations are the International Chamber of Commerce, which produces a wide range of recommendations and analyses in the field of e-commerce; and the Global Business Dialogue, which promotes e-commerce in both the international and the national context.

 

Regional initiatives

The EU developed an e-commerce strategy at the so-called Dot Com Summit of EU leaders in Lisbon (March 2000). Although it embraced a private and market-centred approach to e-commerce, the EU also introduced a few corrective measures aimed at protecting public and social interests (the promotion of universal access, a competition policy involving consideration of the public interest, and a restriction in the distribution of harmful content).

The EU adopted the Directive on Electronic Commerce as well as a set of other directives related to electronic signatures, data protection, and electronic financial transactions. In the Asia-Pacific region, the focal point of e-commerce co-operation is the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC). APEC established the E-Commerce Steering Group, which addresses various e-commerce issues, including consumer protection, data protection, spam, and cybersecurity. The most prominent initiative is APEC’s Paperless Trading Individual Action Plan, which aims to create paperless systems in cross-border trade.

Events

Actors

(UNECE)

UNECE, through its subsidiary body CEFACT, has been involved, together with the Organization for the Advanceme

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UNECE, through its subsidiary body CEFACT, has been involved, together with the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards, in the development of the Electronic Business using eXtensible Markup Language (ebXML) standard. ebXML contains specifications which enable enterprises around the world to conduct business over the Internet, as it provides a standard method to exchange business messages, conduct trading relationship, communicate data in common terms, and define and register business processes.

(WEF)

Within the framework of its Digital Economy and Society initiative, WEF has launched the

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Within the framework of its Digital Economy and Society initiative, WEF has launched the Internet for All project, aimed at bringing online tens of millions of Internet users by the end of 2019, initially through programmes targeted at the Northern Corridor in Africa, Argentina, and India. In addition to this project, WEF also undertakes research on Internet-access-related issues. One notable example is the annual Global Information Technology Report and the related Networked Readiness Index, which measures, among others, the rates of Internet deployment worldwide. Internet access and the digital divide are also addressed in the framework of various WEF initiatives such as its annual meetings and regional events.

(WTO)

The WTO’s involvement in e-commerce-related issues started in 1998, when the Ministerial Conference adopted th

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The WTO’s involvement in e-commerce-related issues started in 1998, when the Ministerial Conference adopted the Declaration on Global Electronic Commerce, which called for the development of a work programme on e-commerce. The programme, also adopted in 1998, provides a definition for e-commerce and sets out responsibilities for WTO bodies in e-commerce-related areas. Other e-commerce-related initiatives undertaken by the WTO include: a moratorium rendering electronic transmissions free of custom duties among WTO member states; a dispute resolution mechanism which addresses, among others, cases involving electronic transactions; and the annual WTO Public Forum. There are ongoing discussions among WTO member states as to whether the organisation should play an increasing role in e‑commerce.

(ITC)

ITC’s activities in the area of

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ITC’s activities in the area of e-commerce are focused on assisting enterprises, in particular small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in acquiring the necessary skills and capabilities to trade on e-commerce channels. It has developed an e-Solutions Programme, which provides enterprises with access to a platform of shared technologies and services, including access to international payment solutions and logistics. A Virtual Market Place project aims to strengthen the skills of SMEs in the Middle East and North Africa region to effectively use new technologies to enhance their visibility on international markets. The Centre also offers e-learning programmes and produces publications related to e-commerce.

(OECD)

Convergence is one of the digital policy issues that the OECD is paying attention to, especially in relation t

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Convergence is one of the digital policy issues that the OECD is paying attention to, especially in relation to the challenges this phenomenon brings on traditional markets, and the need for adequate policy and regulatory frameworks to address them. In 2008, the organisation issued a set of policy guidelines for regulators to take into account when addressing challenges posed by convergence. In 2016, a report issued in preparation for the OECD Ministerial Meeting on the Digital Economy included new recommendations for policy-makers. Digital convergence issues have been on the agenda of OECD Ministerial meetings since 2008, and are also tackled in the regular OECD Digital Economy Outlook report.

(ICC)

ICC engages in the WTO particularly representing micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs).

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ICC engages in the WTO particularly representing micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs). In 2016 ICC issued a report calling for a new WTO agreement on e-commerce. ICC’s objective is to have an e-commerce framework that is more open to MSMEs. The report recommends three main actions: a capacity building fund for SMEs; making trade more efficient for SME for instance through harmonised tariffs for low value items; and global rules to support consumer trust in the digital economy. ICC has also carried out research on trans-border data flows.

Instruments

Conventions

Judgements

Resolutions & Declarations

Wuzhen World Internet Conference Declaration (2015)

Standards

Recommendations

Other Instruments

COMESA Model law on electronic transactions

Resources

Articles

The Anti Tax Avoidance Package - Questions and Answers (2016)
Taxation and Today's Digital Economy (2015)
Withholding Taxes in the Service of BEPS Action 1: Address the Tax Challenges of the Digital Economy (2015)
A Policymaker's Guide to Internet Tax (2013)
The Impact of Internet Content Regulation (2002)
E-Commerce Law

Publications

Internet Governance Acronym Glossary (2015)
An Introduction to Internet Governance (2014)

Papers

Personal Data Storage in Russia (2015)
Aid for eTrade: Accelerating the Global eCommerce Revolution (2014)
Study on the Economic Impact of the Electronic Commerce Directive (2007)

Reports

2016 Special 301 Report (2016)
Advancing Digital Societies in Asia (2016)
UNCTAD B2C E-commerce Index 2016 (2016)
The 2016 National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers (2016)
The Economic Impact of Rural Broadband (2016)
e-Commerce in India: A Game Changer for the Economy (2016)
The Digital Economy & Society Index (DESI) 2016 (2016)
A New Regulatory Framework for the Digital Ecosystem (2016)
2016 Digital yearbook (2016)
Connectivity: Broadband Market Developments in the EU (2016)
Trade Facilitation and Paperless Trade Implementation Survey 2015 (2015)
Addressing the Tax Challenges of the Digital Economy (2015)
OECD Digital Economy Outlook 2015 (2015)
Country Factsheets for the Digital Single Market (2015)
Information Economy Report 2015 - Unlocking the Potential of E-commerce for Developing Countries (2015)
Taxation and the Digital Economy: A Survey of Theoretical Models (2015)
The Global Information Technology Report 2015: ICTs for Inclusive Growth (2015)
Digital Trade in the U.S. and Global Economies, Part 2 (2014)
Design and Development of Initiatives to Support the Growth of e-Commerce via Better Functioning Parcel Delivery Systems in Europe (2014)
Commission Expert Group on Taxation of the Digital Economy (2014)
The Impact of Online Intermediaries on the EU Economy (2013)
Consumer Market Study on the Functioning of E-commerce and Internet Marketing and Selling Techniques in the Retail of Goods (2011)
Study on the Liability of Internet Intermediaries (2007)
Case Studies of E-commerce Activity in Rural and Small Town Businesses (2007)
Consumption Taxation of Cross Border Services and Intangible Property in the context of E-commerce: Guidelines on the Definition of Place of Consumption (2003)
Summary of the Results of the Public Consultation on the Future of Electronic Commerce in the Internal Market and the Implementation of the Directive on Electronic Commerce (2000/31/EC)
Cyberlaws and Regulations for Enhancing E-commerce: Case studies and Lessons Learned

GIP event reports

E-Caravan for Peace: Promoting E-commerce in Conflict and Post-conflict Situations’ (2017)
Launch of the Information Economy Report 2017 (2017)
International Trade Agreements and Internet Governance (2017)
Key Outcomes and Way Forward (2017)
Supporting the Involvement of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises in E-Commerce (2017)
Trade and Investment Promotion: At the Crossroads of Digital Disruption (2017)
Youth Employment in the Digital Economy (2017)
Special Session on Assessing eTrade Readiness of the Least Developed Countries (2017)
Kickstart of the Just-in-Time Course on Digital Commerce: Internet Functionality and Business Models (2017)
G20 Digital Economy - Shaping Digitalization for an Interconnected World and G20 Priorities on Digital Trade (2017)
Launch of eTrade for all Online Platform (2017)
Private Sector Views on Priorities for E-Commerce (2017)
Inclusive Development and E-Commerce: Case of China (2017)
E-commerce in Africa (2017)
Data Flows and Development (2017)

Other resources

Economic Internet Toolkit for African Policy Makers (2015)
Harmonizing Intermediary Immunity for Modern Trade Policy (2014)
E-commerce in Developing Countries: Opportunities and Challenges for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (2013)
Questionnaire on the Future of Electronic Commerce and the Implementation of the E-Commerce Directive (2010)
A Guide for Business to the Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002 (SI 2002/2013) (2002)
International Sources of Electronic Commerce Regulation (2001)

Processes

Session reports

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12th IGF 2017

WTO Public Forum 2017

WSIS Forum 2017

IGF 2016

WTO Public Forum 2016

WSIS Forum 2016

WSIS10HL

IGF 2015

 

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