In his opening remarks, Director-General Roberto Azevêdo said: "The digital economy, and the e-commerce moratorium, have been an important focus of conversations for many WTO members. This issue has drawn a lot of attention, particularly since our 11th Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires." He noted that the moratorium has long been a feature of the multilateral trading system and stated: "Technological advances are revolutionizing the way we do business, and also the way we trade."
DG Azevêdo welcomed the workshop as an opportunity to inform members’ discussions, by bringing together representatives from academia, business, statistical offices and international organizations. His full speech is available here.
Ambassador Junichi Ihara, former Chair of the General Council, gave a brief overview of the work that has led up to the workshop and summarized members' views and concerns in this area, expressing the issues through the following questions:
- What is the scope and definition of electronic transmissions? And what is the historical background of the moratorium?
- What are the revenue implications of the moratorium? Are there reliable figures and estimates to measure the value of digital trade?
- Is it technically feasible to impose customs duties on electronic transmissions? If so, would it be cost-effective? What alternatives are available?
- What is the broader impact of the moratorium on trade and development?
Ambassador Ihara added: "One common element that emerged clearly from these discussions was the need for more data and information to better understand the underlying issues and allow members to make informed decisions. In this regard, some delegations suggested conducting further studies and research to fill in the knowledge gap."
Discussions during the workshop covered the history of the moratorium and the original intent of the 1998 Ministerial Declaration, as well as the economic and technological changes that might have affected the Ministerial decision. It also looked at possible revenue implications and the question of how to form reliable estimates of the value of "products" that have now been digitized and are being transacted across borders online.
The workshop also examined the technical aspects of applying customs duties on electronic transmissions, the development element of the moratorium and its implication for members' efforts to industrialize. The full programme is available here.