WTO

E-commerce negotiations resume with call for intensified efforts in 2022

At their first meeting of the year, on 28 January, the co-convenors of the negotiations on e-commerce, Australia, Japan and Singapore, urged members to intensify their efforts in 2022 to secure convergence on the majority of issues in the negotiations, including the more difficult areas. Participating members heard reports on the small group discussions and exchanged views on proposals relating to “enabling electronic commerce”.

 

Ambassador Kazuyuki Yamazaki (Japan), co-convenor of the initiative and chair of the plenary meetings this year, underlined that the substantial progress in the negotiations in 2021 was possible because of members’ “hard work, creativity and flexibility”. He recalled the joint statement issued in December 2021, in which the ministers of Australia, Japan and Singapore welcomed the progress in the negotiations and set a goal for members to secure convergence on the majority of issues by the end of 2022.
Amb. Yamazaki said that in the first quarter of this year, the co-convenors hope that the small group discussions on open internet access, the electronic transaction framework, electronic invoicing and cyber security will lead to a consensus. He emphasised that it is time to have an extensive discussion on significant issues such as data flow or market access, with the aim of covering these topics in the first half of the year.
In his opening remarks, Ambassador Hung Seng Tan (Singapore), co-convenor of the initiative, said that members should keep up the good work in the small groups and build momentum to clean up provisions such as e-invoicing and electronic transactions frameworks. He said: “These are facilitative provisions which we should reach consensus on as soon as possible.”

Amb. Tan reminded members that the negotiations guiding principle is to ensure proposals have a broad support from members. He encouraged members to exercise flexibility on issues that do not gain traction over the next few months.

“We will identify opportunities throughout 2022 for our ministers to provide guidance regarding key issues in the negotiations,” Ambassador Tan concluded.

Reports from small groups and text proposals

Facilitators of small group discussions reported on the work completed in recent weeks to find common ground in the areas of cybersecurity, electronic transactions frameworks, open internet access and paperless trading. The facilitator on paperless trading reported that the discussions on this topic have been concluded. The text has been “parked” and will be revisited in the future.

Members revisited the text proposals submitted under the theme “enabling electronic commerce”, which includes issues such as electronic payments, improvements to trade policies, logistics services, enhanced trade facilitation, and provision of trade-facilitating and supportive services.  These proposals were most recently discussed at a meeting in February and March 2021.

In his closing remarks, Ambassador George Mina (Australia), co-convenor of the initiative, said: “The article on paperless trading will help streamline trade administration processes in the context of the ongoing digitalisation of goods trade, while striking a balance that will allow customs authorities to continue to do their jobs effectively.” He noted that the success with paperless trading has created space to intensify work on other issues and that there are a few good candidates for new small groups.

Amb. Mina added: “While the small groups are an important venue for making progress in these negotiations, they will not be sufficient alone to achieve the outcomes we need to reach in 2022. Plenary meetings will continue to play an important role, both in providing transparency and creating a space for discussions of horizontal issues.”

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