Co-convenors mark recent round of e-commerce negotiations an important milestone

During the second round of e-commerce negotiations in 2024, held from 11 to 14 March, e-commerce negotiators reviewed a second iteration of the Chair’s text that had been circulated shortly before the WTO’s 13th Ministerial Conference. Co-convenors of the talks — Australia, Japan and Singapore — said that this version is comprehensive and could pave the way for the conclusion of the agreement by the summer.

Speaking on behalf of Ambassador James Baxter of Australia, Jeremy Green, Deputy Permanent Representative to the WTO, underlined that the articles on electronic payments, development issues, and information and communications technology products that use cryptography have all now been incorporated into the Chair’s text for the first time. Mr Green said: “We hope the inclusion of these articles in the text will bring us even closer to consensus.”

The co-convenors stressed: “We’re making solid progress; however, we need to put our foot on the accelerator to ensure we conclude this agreement in the coming weeks.”

On the last day of the negotiation round, the co-convenors provided a high-level update to heads of delegations participating in the talks on the progress so far made in the negotiations and shared their thoughts on future plans.

In his opening remarks for heads of delegations, Ambassador Atsuyuki Oike of Japan laid out future milestones, including that the round of negotiations planned for April will be the final “technical discussion” of the negotiating text. After which, the final version of the Chair’s text will be sent to members for their domestic clearance and for internal engagement at the senior and political level, if necessary, to finalize the agreement.

In their review of the latest version of the Chair’s text, members focused on articles relating to definitions and final and institutional provisions. Additional topics included scope and horizontal carve outs, customs duties and the recently added provisions on cryptography, development and e-payments.

The co-convenors also outlined how they see the legal scrubbing process and clarified principles on which members will be moving forward with scrubbing previously “parked” articles.

Ambassador Hung Seng Tan of Singapore encouraged members to exercise maximum flexibility and accept compromises to achieve the overarching goal of revitalizing the multilateral trading system. Ambassador Tan said: “We must firmly fix our gaze on the broader systemic objective of the Joint Initiative on E-commerce and that is to help ensure that the WTO remains relevant.”

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