• News item: WTO members examine e-commerce moratorium


Remarks by DG Azevêdo

Ambassador Ihara,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning.

Welcome to this workshop on the e-commerce moratorium. It's great to have you all here today.

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.

To help inform their discussions, members have been asking for more data and analysis.

Today's workshop aims to do exactly that, bringing together WTO members and representatives from academia, business, national statistical offices and international organizations.

Of course, this issue is not new at the WTO. Since 1998, members have periodically renewed their commitment not to impose customs duties on electronic transmissions.

This moratorium has long been a feature of the multilateral trading system – and in fact the practice predates the 1998 decision itself.

You could say that this was quite prescient, given the phenomenal rise of the digital world. But I think nobody foresaw the pace of change that we are undergoing today. Technological advances are revolutionizing the way we do business, and also the way we trade.

For example, these advances have further facilitated trade in digital products and some types of services and have allowed more trade to be done online.

Current estimates indicate that global e-commerce sales grew 13% in 2017, totalling around 29 trillion dollars.

The number of online shoppers has registered a similar increase. One quarter of the world's population purchased goods and services online in 2017. And importantly, the share of those buying from abroad rose from 15% in 2015 to 21% in 2017.

These statistics do not separate out goods or services purchased online from digital platforms. Nonetheless the upward trend is clear.

All this has had an impact on how members look at the moratorium, and some members have been raising questions. So it is important to have an informed conversation about these topics.

This is what today is all about. This workshop offers the opportunity to explore these issues and address the different concerns underlying members' views.

It is intended as a contribution to foster a better understanding of the moratorium and its impact, without prejudice to members' overall positions.

Today's agenda takes up different aspects that are relevant to the discussions on the moratorium, such as:

  • the history of the moratorium,
  • possible revenue implications,
  • technical aspects of customs duties on electronic transmissions, and
  • the development element of the moratorium.

Importantly, this conversation will also be enriched by the participation of different stakeholders, who will offer different perspectives and provide relevant analysis.

So let's make the most out of this opportunity. I encourage you to engage actively, ask questions, and listen to each other.

In his role as former Chair of the General Council, Ambassador Ihara assisted members in advancing the discussions around this issue and in advancing the work that has brought us to this workshop. So our work now is largely due to the efforts of Ambassador Ihara, and I think it is important to acknowledge this.

In closing, I wish you a very productive workshop. Be proactive. Get engaged. And I look forward to hearing the reports of your discussions.

Thank you. 




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