E-commerce co-convenors: “We must lock in the credible package that we have in our hands”

The co-convenors of e-commerce talks — Australia, Japan and Singapore — outlined to participants at the latest round of negotiations on 25-27 October the next steps towards concluding the talks by year-end. The package on the table “is a result of five years of hard work and even though it does not meet all our expectations, it is a substantive package that delivers benefits to consumers, businesses and members,” they said. The initiative welcomed The Gambia as the 90th member of the talks.

“We must fix our sight firmly on the goal in the coming weeks,” Ambassador Hung Seng Tan of Singapore told participants. He said the co-convenors intend to circulate an updated consolidated text, which will show the progress achieved so far in finding “landing zones” this year. He noted that the issues that have not gained broad support from members will be removed from that text.

Ambassador Tan added: “I am encouraged to hear the strong expression of support and commitment from all of you for substantial conclusion [of the talks]”. He said that the co-convenors will schedule consultations with members to share the “contours of the substantial conclusion”. They will also circulate a road map and highlight key steps to achieve a timely conclusion of the negotiations.

Speaking on behalf of Ambassador George Mina, co-convenor of the initiative, Deputy Permanent Representative Jeremy Green said: “We can be genuinely proud of what we have achieved. The 12 articles we’ve already “parked” on trust, openness and trade facilitation go beyond, in some cases, what any of us have done before in our trade practice. These articles will demonstrate concrete social and economic benefits. And we do think it’s important to start realizing these benefits now.”

He added: “We have accomplished a great deal in this negotiation so far. As we all know, negotiations require hard work and compromise. They also require striking while the iron is hot. So, let’s not delay these commitments any longer.”

Mr Green concluded: “We ask you for your continued flexibility, pragmatism and support in harvesting an agreement that will be critical for the digital economy, but also for rulemaking at the WTO.”

The initiative so far has parked the following 12 articles: online consumer protection; electronic signatures and authentication; unsolicited commercial electronic messages (spam); open government data; electronic contracts; transparency; paperless trading; cybersecurity; open internet access; electronic transaction frameworks; electronic invoicing; and “single windows”.

The small group facilitators reported on the good progress achieved in the area of privacy and telecommunications services disciplines. Two small groups met for the first time during this latest cluster of meetings to start text-based discussions on development issues and e-payments. Members also heard updates on the articles addressing information and communication technology (ICT) products that use cryptography. Other topics covered included data flows and localisation. Members also had a discussion on horizontal, cross-cutting issues, including the scope of a future agreement on e-commerce.

On behalf of Ambassador Kazuyuki Yamazaki (Japan), co-convenor of the initiative, the Deputy Permanent Representative of Japan, Mr Naoki Hikota reiterated the importance of the development aspect of the e-commerce negotiations, highlighting that inclusiveness is one of its main pillars. “We are seeking an inclusive and balanced outcome. I encourage all members to sit together to find a good landing zone that is mutually beneficial and acceptable,” he concluded.

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