JOINT STATEMENT ON E-COMMERCE

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Ambassadors from Australia, Japan and Singapore, the co-convenors of the e-commerce negotiations, welcomed the good progress achieved to date in the talks and urged participants to keep the momentum going in the run-up to MC12, which will take place in Geneva on 30 November-3 December.

In his concluding remarks to a 22 July plenary meeting, Ambassador Hung Seng Tan of Singapore said members had made “excellent progress”, having now cleaned articles on spam, electronic signatures and authentication, and e-contracts, and virtually cleaned articles on open government data and online consumer protection. A text on transparency had also been “parked”, subject to the final scope and legal structure of the outcome.

Ambassador Tan said that in the run-up to MC12, participants should “ride the good momentum” achieved in the talks by further progressing less controversial issues where members were generally aligned while identifying a clear set of options on more difficult issues.

Ambassador George Mina of Australia said the growing number of clean or nearly clean texts was “testament to the way we have been working and the intensity with which we have been working”.

Ambassador Mina said further intensified work was needed on key issues in the talks, such as data flows, localization, source code, and customs duties on electronic transmissions. “These are among the issues that are of most importance to business, and it’s crucial that we deliver good outcomes,” he said.

In his opening remarks to the plenary meeting, Ambassador Kazuyuki Yamazaki of Japan said participants should keep in mind the need to address the challenges faced by developing and least developed countries, especially in terms of capacity and infrastructure. Doing so would ensure that all participants can benefit from e-commerce in an inclusive manner, he noted.

Ambassador Yamazaki said it was also time for participants to give due consideration on how to move forward on some challenging topics, such as data flow, data localization and legal architecture, in order to pave the way for achieving substantial progress in the run-up to MC12.

Updates from small group discussions

During the plenary meeting the facilitators of small group discussions shared updates on progress made in their efforts to bring together elements of the future e-commerce agreement.

Australia reported progress on cleaning the article on e-contracts, while Canada reported leading work on transparency that has enabled a revised text to be “parked” and ultimately reviewed once the scope and legal structure of the final outcome are clear.

Substantive progress was also reported in the small groups on open government data and online consumer protection. The groups are close to achieving agreed texts with only one outstanding issue in each of the texts. The groups will continue talks with the aim of cleaning the texts by 30 July.

On open internet access, Switzerland said that the group participants were still working on some proposed compromise language. The United Kingdom reported that the first small group discussions on electronic transactions frameworks were useful but that further work was needed.

Cross-cutting issues

The plenary meeting also addressed two cross-cutting issues in the e-commerce talks that had not been addressed for some time but are expected to be discussed in the second half of the year:  cybersecurity and electronic availability of trade-related information. 

Many participants took the floor on the issue of cybersecurity, with the discussions focusing on whether members should adopt a voluntary, risk-based approach towards managing cybersecurity threats or seek more prescriptive provisions when addressing the issue as part of a future agreement. Participants also discussed electronic availability of trade-related information, with the exchanges focusing on whether the issue should be addressed within the e-commerce talks or as part of the WTO trade facilitation agenda.

Participants discussed a revised proposal from Brazil and the Republic of Korea on access to online platforms and competition as well as a communication from Cote d'Ivoire on capacity building and technical assistance for developing and least developed countries.

Participants also heard presentations from the OECD and the Information Technology Industry Council and the National Foreign Trade Council on issues related to services market access.

Background

WTO negotiations on trade-related aspects of electronic commerce were launched in Davos, Switzerland, in January 2019 with the participation of 76 members. The number of participating members now stands at 86. Participating members are seeking to achieve a high-standard outcome that builds on existing WTO agreements and frameworks with the participation of as many WTO members as possible.

The negotiations are based on text proposals submitted by WTO members and are conducted through a combination of plenary, focus group and small group meetings. Currently, the discussions are covering six main themes: enabling e-commerce; openness and e-commerce; trust and e-commerce; cross-cutting issues; telecommunications; and market access.

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