letter to journalists
and phytosanitary (SPS) measures
technology (IT) products
and competition policy
in government procurement
and labour standards
facts and figures
The growing importance of electronic commerce in global trade led the
members of the WTO to adopt a declaration on global electronic
commerce on 20 May 1998 at their Second Ministerial Conference in
Geneva, Switzerland. The declaration directed the General Council of
the WTO to establish a comprehensive work programme to examine all
trade-related issues arising from electronic commerce, and to present
a report on the progress of the work programme at the Third
Ministerial Conference of the WTO. The declaration setting up the work
programme included the statement that “members will continue their
current practice of not imposing customs duties on electronic
transmission”. The work programme was adopted by the WTO General
Council on 25 September 1998.
the work programme, issues related to electronic commerce were
examined by the Council for Trade in Services, the Council for Trade
in Goods, the Council for TRIPS and the Committee on Trade and
Development. During the course of the work programme a number of
background notes on the issues were produced by the WTO Secretariat
and many member governments submitted documents outlining their own
thoughts. A seminar on “Government Facilitation of E-commerce for
Development” was held 14 June 2001 under the auspices of WTO
Committee on Trade and Development. Speakers from developing and
developed countries, international organizations and the private
sector addressed issues related to e-commerce and development. See
results of the seminar.
of the WTO bodies working on e-commerce issues have produced reports
for the General Council on progress in their work programme. The
following is a summary of the main points which emerge from these
reports and from a dedicated discussion on e-commerce issues held
under the auspices of the General Council on 15 June 2001:
for a service which is completed entirely on the Internet from
selection to purchase and delivery.
involving “distribution services” in which a product, whether
a good or a service, is selected and purchased on-line but
delivered by conventional means.
involving the telecommunication transport function, including
provision of Internet services.
vast majority of on-line services transactions are considered
services which are covered by the General Agreement on Trade in
member governments hold the general view that the GATS does not
distinguish between technological means of supplying a service.
general view of member governments is that the provisions of the
GATS apply to the supply of services through electronic means.
difference of views has emerged with respect to whether certain
products (e.g. software and books) when delivered electronically
should be classified as goods or services. Such products, until
relatively recently, had been delivered through conventional means
whereby they were contained in a physical carrier and classified
and regulated as goods. The question now arises as to whether such
products, when delivered electronically, should still be treated
as goods and therefore subject to the rules of the GATT or, should
they be classified as services and be subject to the framework of
the GATS. In either case, members of the WTO would need to take a
decision with respect to these products.
are raised about how the Telecommunications annex of the GATS
should relate to access to and use of Internet access services.
Many Internet service providers (ISPs) and services may benefit
from the Annex provisions ensuring fair and reasonable access to
the leased circuits they obtain from pubic telecom operators. But
some member governments wonder if, or to what extent, ISPs
themselves should be obliged by the Annex to offer such access to
of the reports to the General Council by the Council for Trade in
Services, the Council for Trade in Goods, the Council for TRIPS and
the Committee on Trade and Development are available on the electronic
commerce page of this site.