E-commerce negotiations maintain positive momentum, focus on key issues

Participants in the negotiations on e-commerce discussed key issues such as data flow, data localisation and development at their 22-25 May meetings. The co-convenors (Australia, Japan and Singapore) urged members to step up the work of the small groups between now and the summer break in order to achieve as much convergence as possible.

In his opening remarks, Ambassador George Mina encouraged WTO members to lift the rate of progress in the work of the small groups so that more articles can be “parked”. He underlined the importance of the e-commerce negotiations for the future of rulemaking and the digital economy.

Updates from small group discussions

The facilitators of small group discussions shared updates on progress in the work to bridge the differences on text proposals in areas such as cryptography, source code, privacy, “single windows” and telecommunications.

A new small group on data flows and data localisation started looking at text proposals on areas such as development and the digital inclusion of indigenous people.

An information session on data flows and data localisation was held to share the perspective of private sector representatives from Latin America and Africa on the impact of data localization measures on these regions’ integration into global markets and their ability to innovate and improve products and services. Another information session was held on e-payments.

Participants shared information on their technical assistance and capacity building programmes in support of efforts to develop e-commerce.

Ambassador Kazuyuki Yamazaki urged members to achieve as much convergence as possible in the small groups before the summer break and asked members to show the necessary flexibility.

A number of members said that engagement by senior officials before the summer break could help build on the momentum achieved so far by the negotiators.

Ambassador Yamazaki stressed the importance of data flows in the digital economy and urged members to create a sense of commonality that can address the different interests, concerns and circumstance of members.

On the development aspect of the negotiations, Ambassador Yamazaki said: “We are seeking a balanced and inclusive outcome.” He noted that members should consider how they could achieve outcomes that are beneficial to both developing and developed members so that all participating members can benefit from e-commerce in an exclusive manner.

Ambassador Hung Seng Tan of Singapore, co-convenor of the initiative and chair of the 2023 plenary meetings, reminded participants that five clusters of meetings remain between now and the end of the year. He said: “Time is not on our side. The runway is short; hence I would urge every delegation to reflect seriously on how we can collectively contribute to achieving our targets of securing substantial conclusions by the end of this year and having an ambitious and meaningful outcome in a timely manner.”

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