According to the Work Programme on Electronic Commerce, the Committee on Trade and Development is instructed to examine the development implications of e-commerce, taking into account the economic, financial and development needs of developing countries.
The work programme instructs three other WTO bodies to explore the relationship between existing WTO agreements and e-commerce. These bodies are the Council for Trade in Goods, the Council for Trade in Services and the Council for Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.
China and Pakistan co-sponsored a proposal on e-commerce. China, which presented the proposal, shared information about the role of e-commerce in poverty alleviation and the work done in China to encourage business and enterprises to establish e-commerce platforms and to enhance the flow of goods in poor areas. China cited infrastructure and human resources challenges for achieving these goals. The proposal, which emphasizes that the development dimension should be maintained through the discussions on e-commerce, primarily addresses the promotion and facilitation of cross-border trade in goods, payments and logistics services.
A second proposal presented by Brazil, and co-sponsored by Argentina and Paraguay, focused on electronic signatures and their role in the digital identity of users. The proponents shared their experience on how e-signatures are dealt with in the MERCOSUR (Southern Common Market) area. They also indicated that the “single window” procedures in trade facilitation will benefit from e-signatures as governments will be able to ascertain the identity of people who send documents.
The European Union presented a proposal in which the co-sponsors mapped out the issues of e-commerce that are relevant to trade policy. Such issues include regulatory frameworks, open markets, initiatives that facilitate the development of e-commerce such as trade facilitation and Aid for Trade, and transparency in the multilateral trading system. The co-sponsors said that the list they have provided within the proposal is not exhaustive and they invited members to give their views on what additional elements should be added.
An informal paper co-sponsored by Brunei Darussalam, Colombia, Costa Rica, Hong Kong (China), Singapore, China, Israel, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Qatar, Seychelles and Turkey identified some issues to kick start the discussion, such as online security and access to online payments as well as addressing the infrastructure gaps that exist in developing countries.
Generally, members seem to acknowledge the role of e-commerce in providing means and opportunities to promote global trade. Some members expressed interest in deepening and continuing the discussion, with the aim of achieving tangible results at the 11th Ministerial Conference at the end of 2017. Other members highlighted the need to use available tools within the WTO in order to enable countries to be on the “e-commerce train” or to be e-commerce ready.However, many developing members highlighted the digital divide that continues to exist within the membership, noting that there are central components necessary for e-commerce, such as power supply, connectivity, bandwidth or access to the internet, which are often missing in developing countries. This group of members argued that the role of the committee should be to address the development needs of these countries.