E-commerce negotiators seek to find common ground, revisit text proposals
At a meeting on 21 February, participants in the negotiations on electronic commerce received updates on the small group discussions and exchanged views on proposals relating to telecommunications services, access to online platforms and competition.
Ambassador Kazuyuki Yamazaki (Japan), co-convenor of the initiative and chair of the plenary meetings this year, said WTO members need to devote as many resources as possible to the topics they “show willingness to discuss”. This will help members achieve the goal set by ministers in December 2021 of securing convergence on the majority of issues by the end of 2022, he said.
Ambassador Yamazaki urged proponents to ensure their proposals have broad support from members. He encouraged proponents to exercise flexibility on issues that do not gain a reasonable degree of support at meetings in the first half of this year.
Reports from small groups and text proposals
Facilitators of small group discussions reported on the work completed in recent weeks to find common ground on open internet access, cybersecurity and electronic invoicing. Members also revisited proposals on updating disciplines related to basic telecommunications services, access to online platforms and competition.
In his opening remarks, Ambassador George Mina of Australia urged small groups to step up their work. He said: “We need to see more work from the facilitators but more work from every single member of those small groups.” He reminded members that the co-convenors are available to encourage further convergence in the work of these groups.
Ambassador Mina noted that 65 members have put forward a proposal to renew the multilateral moratorium on the imposition of customs duties on e-commerce. He urged members to engage with this proposal in the coming months as dates for reconvening the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) are being deliberated.
Speaking on behalf of Ambassador Hung Seng Tan, co-convenor of the initiative, the Deputy Permanent Representative of Singapore, Darry Leong, noted that telecommunications infrastructure provides the foundation for access to the opportunities offered by the digital economy. Regulatory and institutional frameworks in the telecommunications sector, he said, are essential to drive forward the development of digital trade.
Mr Leong encouraged members to accelerate talks in order to conclude the negotiations in a timely manner and to allow stakeholders to reap the benefits of the initiative. The co-convenors are committed to ensuring that the initiative continues to move forward with creating e-commerce rules that enhance digital inclusion, he said. “It is important to make substantial progress to demonstrate that the WTO remains relevant and is able to address 21st century challenges,” he added.