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E-commerce negotiations: Members share updates, discuss legal architecture of future outcome

At a meeting on e-commerce negotiations held on 21 June, participating members discussed progress in bridging differences and the options available for them to integrate any future outcome of the negotiations into the WTO legal framework. The co-convenors (Australia, Japan, Singapore) noted that several legally viable pathways exist and recognised the different approaches needed to accommodate them. They encouraged members to keep up the momentum and work intensely to achieve the key milestones before the summer break.

The co-convenors underlined that any future outcome should encompass three main objectives: (i) it should fit within the WTO architecture; (ii) it should allow for a sufficient level of ambition, with a high standard of commitments on key topics such as data-related disciplines; (iii) it should be subject to the WTO dispute settlement system to the greatest extent possible.

Ambassador Hung Seng Tan (Singapore), co-convenor of the initiative, urged members to remain open minded and avoid pre-judging outcomes regarding the legal architecture. He reiterated that the absence of an easy solution is an opportunity for the participating members to challenge themselves to devise innovative and relevant responses. He noted that the Trade Facilitation Agreement is a good model, where WTO members found an innovative way to address members’ specific needs, using transition periods and allowing implementation upon receipt of capacity building. He said that this agreement could be a model worth emulating to ensure high standards and inclusive participation in the e-commerce initiative.

The facilitators of small group discussions shared updates on progress made in the work to bridge the differences on text proposals in areas such as open government data, online consumer protection, paperless trading, open internet access, source code, electronic contracts, customs duties on electronic transmissions and transparency. Ambassador George Mina (Australia), who chaired the meeting, called for more flexibility, momentum and creativity as members aim to achieve a clean text on several topics before the summer break.

In his concluding remarks, Ambassador Kazuyuki Yamazaki (Japan), co-convenor of the initiative, urged participants to deepen the discussion on the legal issue while taking all the possible options into consideration. He emphasised the significance of the development aspect of these negotiations for members to achieve balanced and inclusive outcomes. He underscored the need to listen to the concerns of developing and least developed countries and take a targeted approach in addressing their specific development concerns.

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