E-commerce talks resume following summer break, Mauritius joins the initiative
Participants in the negotiations on e-commerce continued to seek convergence on various topics in the negotiations during their 12-15 September meetings. The co-convenors of the negotiations — Australia, Japan and Singapore — welcomed Mauritius as a new participant, bringing the total number of WTO members participating in the e-commerce initiative to 87.
The latest cluster of meetings tackled several topics, including implementation periods for a future agreement on e-commerce, in particular for developing and least developed countries, access to online platforms and competition in electronic commerce. The negotiators continued to seek convergence on topics such as cyber security, privacy, telecommunications services, electronic invoicing and electronic transaction frameworks. Two more clusters of meetings will take place in October and November, with co-convenors aiming to issue a more streamlined negotiating text towards the end of this year.
A “stocktaking session” looked at several proposals that have not yet attracted universal support from participants in the negotiations. The proposals were examined to help their proponents decide how to take these proposals forward. Following the withdrawal of proposals from single proponents in July, a further proposal was withdrawn in September due to lack of support. The co-convenors commended members for their flexibility in this regard.
Ambassador Kazuyuki Yamazaki (Japan), co-convenor of the initiative and chair of the plenary meetings this year, underlined the huge potential of e-commerce for the global economy. He said: “Remote product and service providers should benefit from the multilateral rules of these negotiations. We would like to enhance our efforts towards the end of this year to achieve satisfactory results and move further on.”
Ambassador Yamazaki welcomed the participation of capital-based officials in the negotiations and encouraged members to send officials to upcoming meetings in October and November.
Looking at the next phase of the negotiations, Ambassador George Mina (Australia), co-convenor, said by the end of the year the initiative aimed to conclude talks on the majority of issues remaining. “We still think this is within reach,” he said, “but it is going to require us all to buckle down and show the kind of compromise that we have seen throughout the last year and a half.”
Ambassador Mina added: “This will require members to energize in those areas where no convergence has been reached and pull back where it has become clear there is not enough support. This requires senior officials’ and political engagement in the coming weeks.”
Underlining the importance of the negotiations, he said: “The foundation for all activity on digital trade in the future is going to come from here. So it is vital that we continue this momentum and it is vital to continue with the contribution that our teams and leadership are all making.”
Ambassador Mina noted that after the next three sessions organised before the end of the year, the co-convenors will issue a revised consolidated text, which will allow members to work in 2023 towards the finalisation of these negotiations. “That is within our reach by 2023 if we can keep this momentum up,” he concluded.
Speaking on behalf of Ambassador Hung Seng Tan, co-convenor of the initiative, the Deputy Permanent Representative of Singapore, Darry Leong, noted the initiative is very close to “cleaning up” text on electronic invoicing, electronic transaction frameworks and cyber security. He said: “As the runway is getting shorter, it is important to set a roadmap to chart our path forward. The objective is to set critical milestones and a concrete plan to address outstanding issues in the negotiations.”