E-commerce negotiations enter final lap, Kyrgyz Republic joins initiative

E-commerce negotiations enter final lap, Kyrgyz Republic joins initiative

Participants in the negotiations on e-commerce intensified efforts to seek convergence on various topics during their 13-16 February meetings, aiming to wrap up talks by the end of 2023. The co-convenors of the negotiations — Australia, Japan and Singapore — welcomed the Kyrgyz Republic as a new participant, bringing the total number of WTO members participating in the e-commerce initiative to 88.

Ambassador Hung Seng Tan of Singapore, co-convenor of the initiative and chair for the 2023 plenary meetings, reiterated the initiative’s commitment to establishing a set of high-standard rules for governing the digital economy, with the participation of as many WTO members as possible. These rules will build on existing WTO agreements, he said.  “I want to remind all of us of this because we are now entering the final lap. And I hope that we can keep this objective in mind as we accelerate and intensify our negotiations this year,” he added.

Ambassador Tan encouraged participating members to exercise flexibility in the negotiations and to find landing zones. He said: “This means that all of us must come prepared and equipped with the necessary mandate to negotiate substantively.”

At this week’s cluster of meetings, members discussed topics related to implementation periods for a future agreement on e-commerce, in particular for developing and least developed countries. They also delved deeper into the topics of “single windows” and the non-discriminatory treatment of digital products. Members also debated horizontal issues, such as principles and definitions in the agreement. Members discussed a proposal related to e-commerce and digital inclusion that takes into consideration the interests of indigenous peoples, women, rural communities and micro, small and medium sized enterprises.

The negotiators continued to seek convergence on topics such as electronic invoicing, privacy, telecommunications services and cryptography. They announced that the technical work on articles related to electronic invoicing was finalised this week and that the text will be “parked”. Eight clusters of meetings will take place in 2023, with co-convenors aiming to conclude the negotiations by the end of the year.

A “stocktaking session” looked at proposals that have not yet attracted universal support from participants in the negotiations. The proposals were examined to help their proponents decide how to take these proposals forward.

Ambassador George Mina of Australia underlined the important guidance received from ministers in Davos. He said: “What they’re saying to us is that this initiative is within our grasp now. This is the year we can bring it home. So that’s a really important political message.”

He stressed that the consolidated text shared with participants at the end of 2022 reflects the convergence that has been established over recent months. He added: “So clearly, we are within range. Not only do we have the political guidance, but we know we are within range to be able to close this deal in the months ahead.”

In his closing remarks to the plenary meeting, Ambassador Kazuyuki Yamazaki of Japan said that conveners would like to deepen discussion on cross-cutting issues, such as scope, general provisions and data related issues, and legal architecture, this year. He further flagged that the convenors plan to hold a session on legal architecture in the upcoming meetings.

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