Ambassador Kazuyuki Yamazaki of Japan, who chaired the meetings, emphasized the importance of expediting work on achieving consensus on each article of a future agreement. “I urge participants to find a good landing zone for the articles of existing small groups and encourage you to use the available time slots for informal consultation and bilateral discussion,” he said.
In his introductory remarks, one of the co-convenors, Ambassador Mina of Australia, stated that the coming weeks are critical for the negotiations, adding: “This text will showcase the good progress we’ve made across the agreement. It will make it clear to negotiators … where the energy in these negotiations is currently concentrated and which provisions are moving forward.”
Over the four days of meetings, participants launched a new small group discussion on information and communication technology (ICT) products that use cryptography. Other small group meetings were held on an electronic transactions framework, e-invoicing, cybersecurity, privacy and telecommunications. In addition, two stocktaking sessions took place while a seminar on “The Importance of Data Protection & Privacy for Consumer Trust” was organized by Consumers International and the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC).
Participants also heard a presentation by the WTO Institute for Training and Technical Cooperation, which outlined the technical assistance provided by the WTO Secretariat.
At the closing plenary session, Ambassador Hung Seng Tan of Singapore urged members to strike a balance between focusing on domestic regulations and the “raison d'être” of the negotiations, which is to develop a common framework to facilitate e-commerce.
“I strongly urge members to look beyond their domestic legislations and consider the substantive value of each and every provision. Taking such an approach will enable us to advance our negotiations and hopefully achieve harmonisation of digital rules across jurisdictions, harnessing the full potential of digital trade,” he declared.
The facilitators of the small group discussions also reported on work done between plenary meetings to further streamline text proposals.
At the 11th Ministerial Conference in December 2017, a like-minded group of members issued a joint statement to initiate exploratory work towards future WTO negotiations on trade-related aspects of e-commerce. Currently, the total number of WTO members participating in the e-commerce initiative is 87.
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