E-commerce co-convenors to issue updated negotiating text

“We have our work cut out for us post summer,” the co-convenors of e-commerce talks told participants at their meetings from 26 to 28 July. They said they intend to circulate before the summer break an updated negotiating text, which will show the progress achieved so far in finding “landing zones”. Members need to “double efforts” so that they can collectively achieve their goal of substantial conclusion of the negotiations by the end of 2023, they added.

In his opening remarks, Ambassador Hung Seng Tan of Singapore, co-convenor of the initiative and chair of the 2023 plenary meetings, said: “We need to exercise greater flexibility and we need to really put our shoulders to the plough and push together as we head towards the finishing line.”

In closing the meeting, he said that the co-convenors will take time to reflect over the summer and take stock of progress made so far. He added: “We will develop a roadmap for us to double down our efforts from September to November.” He also announced that a text on “single windows” — the practice of establishing a single entry point for the exchange of information between trader and government — has been “parked”, meaning the technical work on this topic has been finalized.

Ambassador George Mina of Australia told the negotiators that “creative bridging” work is needed more than ever at this moment in the negotiations, referring to various new compromise approaches proposed by facilitators in recent weeks.

He said: “We’re all coming at this negotiation from different regulatory traditions and different approaches in our domestic jurisdictions. The art here is to find those creative bridging approaches”. He also stressed the need for political engagement, particularly on more sensitive issues. The co-convenors said that they will be consulting with members on how to secure that engagement.

Following the heads of delegation meeting on 6 July, participants in the e-commerce talks continued their work in small groups and reported on the progress made between sessions. At the closing session, the facilitators also shared updates on progress in their work to find landing zones during the latest meetings on text proposals in areas such as cryptography, source code, privacy, “single windows”, telecommunications, data flows and data localisation.

At the meetings, participating members also held discussions on “horizontal” — or cross-cutting — issues, such as general and security exceptions in the future agreement. There was also an information session on development, which examined existing capacity building efforts by WTO members and international organisations and demonstrated how they complement the efforts undertaken in the e-commerce talks.  This was followed by a discussion on a joint proposal on development issues.

In his closing remarks, Ambassador Kazuyuki Yamazaki of Japan also called for creative thinking and more flexibility, stressing the need to seek an inclusive outcome on development issues.

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