E-commerce talks mark new phase in negotiations
The co-convenors of the negotiations on e-commerce — Australia, Japan and Singapore — told the participants on 12-14 July that revised ways of working will be introduced to help the initiative build the spirit of compromise needed to achieve a “high-quality outcome”. The co-convenors said that they will be marking a new phase in the negotiations with three more rounds of in-person talks scheduled for the rest of this year to step up convergence efforts.
Ambassador Mina of Australia, who chaired the meeting, highlighted the statement issued at the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) by ministers of Australia, Japan and Singapore. This statement included a commitment to revise the working modalities of the initiative to ensure that it achieves progress in the next few months and to issue a new consolidated negotiating text by the end of 2022.
Ambassador Mina said: “We are marking this new phase with a step-up of our convergence efforts that’s going to require a couple of different ways of working.” He said that participants will need to accelerate their work in the small group setting.
Over the three days of meetings, the participants held two new small group meetings on privacy and on updating the telecommunications reference paper in addition to small group meetings on electronic transactions frameworks, e-invoicing, customs duties on electronic transmission, and cyber security. The facilitators of those small groups reported at the closing plenary on progress made in their deliberations to narrow gaps and bridge differences. Participants also heard an update from the group on open internet access and a proposal on how to enable developing countries to harness and implement the initiative’s outcomes on e-commerce.
Ambassador Mina said: “The second big strand in our effort is to extend our convergence building process.” He said the group will be creating a “stocktake small group”, which will look at proposals that had not attracted enough support from the rest of the participants in the negotiations to assess whether proponents of these proposals should step up their engagement or withdraw these proposals. “We’re going to look for some leadership from those delegations that are backing proposals that received limited or no support to reconsider their position,” he added.
The stocktaking session discussed “single windows”, data exchange and systems interoperability.
Ambassador Mina encouraged members to submit bridging and convergence-building ideas rather than new proposals under the negotiations.
Speaking on behalf of Ambassador Hung Seng Tan of Singapore, co-convenor of the initiative, First Secretary Mr Wei Guo Tang said: “We need to work harder and smarter. Working harder means members need to spend more time making creative attempts to resolve impasse and bridge differences.”
He added: “And working smarter requires us to change the way we work and instead of rehashing old positions, we should think out of the box and look ahead rather than constantly looking into the rear mirror.”
Ambassador Mina updated members on the E-Commerce Capacity Building Framework , which was launched at MC12 to offer a wide range of capacity building in support of the participation of developing and least developed countries in the e-commerce negotiations and to facilitate their engagement in the digital economy.
On behalf of Ambassador Kazuyuki Yamazaki (Japan), co-convenor of the initiative, the Deputy Permanent Representative of Japan, Mr Naoki Hikota, noted that members had a good discussion in the stocktaking small group on single windows, data exchange and system interoperability and the unique consignment reference numbers. He invited the proponent of these proposals to make further efforts to gather support from other participants.