E-commerce talks: two “foundational” articles cleaned; development issues discussed

Participants in e-commerce negotiations welcomed two more clean articles — on open government data and online consumer protection — at a meeting on 13 September.

Ambassador George Mina of Australia said the two articles were “foundational” for the initiative. He said the high-quality text achieved in both cases reflected the perspectives of a diverse range of developed and developing countries, and thanked New Zealand, Japan and Hong Kong, China for leading the negotiating groups on these issues.

The online consumer protection article requires members to adopt or maintain measures that proscribe misleading, fraudulent and deceptive commercial activities that cause harm, or potential harm, to consumers engaged in electronic commerce. Members are required to endeavour to adopt or maintain measures that aim to ensure suppliers deal fairly and honestly with consumers and provide complete and accurate information on goods and services and to ensure the safety of goods and, where applicable, services during normal or reasonably foreseeable use. The article also requires members to promote consumer redress or recourse mechanisms.

The open government data article encourages members to expand the coverage of government data made available for public access and use. It requires members to endeavour, to the extent practicable, to ensure that government data they choose to make digitally and publicly available meets particular characteristics, and to endeavour to avoid imposing certain conditions on such data.

The co-convenors — Australia, Japan and Singapore — urged participants to build on the strong momentum to achieve substantial progress by the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) at the end of the year.

Ambassador Mina emphasized the importance of small negotiating groups in generating convergence and in ensuring inclusivity and transparency. This was achieved, he said, by regularly bringing the work of the small negotiating groups to plenary meetings and allowing all participants to make comments and shape the text.

The negotiations have previously produced clean articles on spam, electronic signatures and authentication, and e-contracts. A text on transparency has also been “parked”, subject to the final scope and legal structure of the negotiated outcome.

Development issues

The meeting featured a detailed discussion on digital trade and development. Participants discussed proposals aimed at helping developing and least-developed countries implement the new rules on e-commerce and bridge the digital divide.

Members’ discussions covered options for capacity building and technical assistance, sharing of experiences and best practices, and cooperation with specialised international organisations. Members shared examples of existing capacity building initiatives that have helped countries implement digital trade rules and addressed challenges faced by developing and least-developed countries.

In his opening remarks, Ambassador Hung Seng Tan of Singapore said it was timely for participants to consider how best the e-commerce initiative could help all participants reap the benefits of the digital transformation. It was important for the initiative to deepen members’ understanding of the digitalization process, he said.

Ambassador Kazuyuki Yamazaki of Japan said that it was important for the initiative to take into account participants’ different levels of development and ensure the negotiations progressed in an inclusive manner. It was crucial to maintain the strong momentum in the lead up to MC12, he said.

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