Electronic commerce

At the Second Ministerial Conference in May 1998, ministers, recognizing that global electronic commerce was growing and creating new opportunities for trade, adopted the Declaration on Global Electronic Commerce. This called for the establishment of a work programme on e-commerce, which was adopted in September 1998. Periodic reviews of the programme are conducted by the General Council based on reports from the WTO bodies responsible for implementing the programme. Ministers also regularly consider the programme at the WTO's ministerial conferences.

See also:

> World Bank: WDR: Digital Opprtunities
> UNCTAD: IER – Unlocking the Potential of E-commerce in Developing Countries
> ITC magazine: putting e-commerce to work in developing countries
> ITU: Measuring the Information Economy
> OECD: Digital Economy Outlook
> UNCITRAL: Model Laws
> The Broadband Commission for Digital Development: The State of Broadband 2015
> WEF: Global Information Technology Report
> Tufts University: Digital Evolution Index
> EU: Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI)
> APEC: Initiative on MSMEs

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The Declaration instructed the General Council to establish a comprehensive work programme to examine all trade-related issues relating to global electronic commerce, including issues identified by Members. Ministers also declared that Members will continue their practice of not imposing customs duties on electronic transmissions (“moratorium” on customs duties). The Secretariat issued a Note to assist Members in their deliberations on trade-related issues pertaining to global electronic commerce pursuant to the Ministerial Declaration on Global Electronic Commerce.


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Work Programme on Electronic Commerce

 In September 1998, the General Council adopted the Work Programme on Electronic Commerce.

Definition of electronic commerce: The Work Programme on Electronic Commerce states that: “Exclusively for the purposes of the work programme, and without prejudice to its outcome, the term ‘electronic commerce’' is understood to mean the production, distribution, marketing, sale or delivery of goods and services by electronic means”. Four WTO bodies were charged with the responsibility of carrying out the Work Programme: the Council for Trade in Services; the Council for Trade in Goods; the Council for TRIPS; and the Committee on Trade and Development. The General Council plays a central role and keeps the work programme under continuous review.


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Work in the respective bodies

The Work Programme on Electronic Commerce instructed:

  • the Council for Trade in Goods to examine and report on aspects of electronic commerce relevant to the provisions of GATT 1994, the multilateral trade agreements covered under Annex 1A of the WTO Agreement, and the approved work programme;
    > CTG interim review of progress


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Work in the General Council

Since May 2001, the General Council's examination of cross-cutting issues under the Work Programme has been carried out in dedicated discussions held for this purpose. The first Dedicated Discussion was held on 15 June 2001 under the auspices of the General Council. Following that meeting, the Secretariat circulated a summary of the issues raised and a list of cross-cutting issues identified by delegations. The twelfth and most recent Dedicated Discussion was held on 18 October 2016. Since then, discussions have continued in informal open-ended meetings convened by the General Council Chair and through the review of progress in the General Council.

Work Programme on Electronic Commerce — Review of Progress  :


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Ministerial Decisions on the Work Programme on Electronic Commerce

Ministers have considered the Work Programme on Electronic Commerce at their Ministerial Conferences in Geneva 1998; Doha 2001; Hong Kong 2005; Geneva in 2009; Geneva 2011; Bali 2013; Nairobi 2015; and Buenos Aires 2017. At those Conferences, Ministers have taken note of the reports on electronic commerce and have instructed the General Council and its relevant subsidiary bodies to continue their work on e-commerce. Ministers have also agreed to continue the practice of not imposing customs duties on electronic transmissions until their next session. At the General Council in December 2019, Members decided to continue the Work Programme and Moratorium until the 12th Ministerial Conference.


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  • General Council documents (Document code “varies”) > search
  • Reports of the Goods Council (Document code “varies”)   > search
  • Progress report  of the Services Council > S/L/74
  • Background Note by Secretariat (services) > S/W/68
  • Reports of the Services Council (Document code “varies”)   > search
  • Reports of the TRIPS (intellectual property) Council (Document code “varies”) > search
  • Background Note by Secretariat, 1999 (intellectual property) 
  • Reports of the Trade and Development Committee (Document code “varies”) > search


Eleventh Ministerial Conference


> Briefing Note


Tenth Ministerial Conference


> Briefing Note