E-commerce negotiations: Co-convenors urge members to intensify efforts ahead of MC12

The co-convenors of the negotiations on e-commerce have urged participating members to intensity their efforts and to make further progress ahead of the WTO 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) starting in late November. In the current global context and with the COVID-19 pandemic continuing, stakeholders are expecting this initiative to continue to yield results, they said at a plenary meeting held on 13 October.


Ambassador George Mina (Australia) said that the co-convenors — Australia, Japan and Singapore — are available to help drive convergence and they urged members to show flexibility in the negotiations. It is important for the initiative that the participants achieve the target of securing a package of 10 to 12 agreed articles for the future e-commerce agreement by MC12, and members should keep that in mind as they continue their discussions in small groups formats, he added.

Ambassador Mina said: “MC12 is not only an opportunity to deliver momentum but it is an opportunity for the group to present what we are doing to the world. The world’s eyes will be on us at MC12 and we will be looked to as an important part of the rulemaking function of the WTO. We have a big opportunity to showcase what we’re doing”

Ambassador Kazuyuki Yamazaki (Japan), a co-convener of the initiative, whose remarks were delivered by his deputy representative, welcomed the recent establishment of the two small groups on electronic invoicing and cybersecurity. He appreciated all the efforts the facilitators of small groups have been making to move the discussions forward by suggesting compromise proposals and showing flexibility. He hoped that members would maintain this momentum up until MC12 and beyond and achieve substantive progress.

Ambassador Yamazaki said he believes that the ongoing work in the small groups on open internet access, paperless trading, electronic transaction framework and electronic invoicing is very promising. He said the initiative should discuss important topics such as data-related issues and noted that the discussions on personal data protection in the plenary meeting were very relevant to members.

Reports from small groups and revisiting proposals

Facilitators of small group discussions reported on the work done in recent weeks to find common ground on proposals in the areas of source code, paperless trading, open internet access, and electronic transaction frameworks. The facilitators of the two recently-established working groups on cybersecurity and electronic invoicing also reported on the work these groups have begun on existing proposals.

Members also revisited proposals on two issues: the protection of personal information or data, and on information and communication technology (ITC) products that use cryptography. The proposals on the first topic aim at ensuring that the personal data of users of electronic commerce is protected, so that users’ confidence in electronic commerce is enhanced as a result.

Ahead of the discussions on these two topics, Ambassador Yamazaki said that in the development of e-commerce activities, appropriate protection of personal information is essential. At the same time, transparency, predictability, and interoperability of applicable rules is also necessary for cross border e-commerce activities. This issue is a very important aspect of the negotiations on digital trade rules. Likewise, he noted, the topic of cryptography is also an important contributor to business trust in commerce.

The proposals on ITC products that use cryptography aim to make trade in these products less restrictive, with certain exceptions. Cryptography, or encryption, a feature widely available in ICT products such as tablets, smartphones, computers and software to ensure secure communications.

In his concluding remarks, Ambassador Hung Seng Tan (Singapore), co-convenor of the initiative, noted that issues of privacy and ICT products that use encryption are complex, and that the deep discussion members had at the plenary on this issue were necessary to foster better understanding and trust among members, as they formulate provisions that are meaningful for business and consumers.

On the upcoming Ministerial Conference, Ambassador Tan said that members should leverage MC12 as a milestone to showcase progress to stakeholders, in particular by achieving the target of 10 or 12 clean text articles. He urged members to finalise work in the small groups where a clean text is within reach. He added that it would be helpful to set a target for the negotiations that will guide members towards the finishing line and demonstrate to stakeholders that there is a resolve to conclude the negotiations in a timely fashion.

After MC12, ministerial involvement will be necessary to maintain momentum in the negotiations and ensure timely political guidance to resolve political issues, Ambassador Tan said.

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