The moderator of the session, Mr Pascal Kerneis (Managing Director, ESF), highlighted the issue of the rules of the e-commerce multilateral initiative. He stated the need for a commitment from the member states of the WTO, and flexibility on e-commerce debates.
Mr Alvaro Cedeno Molinari (Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Costa Rica to the WTO) noted the historic journey of e-commerce, starting with the WTO's Work Programme on E-commerce that was launched in 1998, and the impact the Nairobi Ministerial conference (MC11) had on e-commerce initiatives in 2015. He also higlighted the goals of the e-commerce multilateral initiative, which are skills and capacity development in ICTs and e-commerce.
Molinari emphasised the fact that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have major challenges, and said that e-commerce is going beyond the electronic transaction services. He mentioned that although the same language is being spoken during discussions on e-commerce, the true problem lies in the lack of implementation of the decisions taken. According to Molinari, developing countries do not need to go though the same long journey taken by developed countries. He concluded by mentioning that facilitators of trade were technological materials, such as software and artificial intelligence (AI).
Ms Xiaolin Chai (Director of Trade in Services Division, WTO) started by explaining the role of telecommunications in making e-commerce development possible. She said that during the first years of e-commerce debates, technological issues were present. However, now the challenge for governments lies in tackling e-commerce policies. She pointed that during MC11, they discussed e-commerce, but there is still a difference in implementation levels.
According to Chai, MC12 would be the occassion to tackle the problem of momentum on e-commerce, stating that transparency is good for e-commerce debates between member states. E-commerce can be developed with commitment on infrastructure, and financial services. She concluded by emphasising the important role of e-commerce in the economic development of both developing and developed countries. Generally, there is flexibility for developing countries to allow implementation of the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA).
Mr Hosuk Lee-Makiya (Director, The European Centre for International Political Economy (ECIPE)) said that there are many reasons to discuss e-commerce issues in multilateral meetings. According to Makiya, e-commerce is already multilateral; whether it is data protection, digital channels, payment for services, or other topics. He added that we need to recognise the impact of the US-Mexico-Canada agreement (USMCA), in affecting the future of e-commerce debates.
He mentioned areas that needed focus, such as data usage and localisation and connectivity, as well as specific digital taxation to digital trade. Makiya said that digitalisation needs to be viewed beyond e-commerce, emphasising that we can not resist the digitalisation of the economy. He noted that it is helping SMEs grow their businesses, and concluded by stating that AI is not a concept, but a real digital material that can transform the global economy.
Mr Adriaan Scheiris (EU Public Affairs Manager, UPS) started by explaining the SME trends in e-commerce, noting that there is a rise in businesses every year because of lower transaction costs, higher Internet penetration rates, and the impact of the WTO TFA.
He posed the question of how to enable and support e-commerce globally and concluded that data flows, privacy, simplified documentations, but most importantly, trust, were the crucial answers.