Joint Initiative on E-commerce
A group of 71 WTO members agreed at the 11th Ministerial Conference in December 2017 to initiate exploratory work towards future WTO negotiations on trade-related aspects of e-commerce. In January 2019, 76 WTO members confirmed in a joint statement their intention to commence these negotiations. They agreed to "seek to achieve a high standard outcome that builds on existing WTO agreements and frameworks with the participation of as many WTO members as possible".
As of January 2021, there are WTO members participating in these discussions, accounting for over 90 per cent of global trade. As is the case for all the joint initiatives, participation in the e-commerce JI is open to all WTO members. The initiative is jointly co-convened by Ambassador George Mina (Australia), Ambassador YAMAZAKI Kazuyuki (Japan) and Ambassador Tan Hung Seng (Singapore).
Background — What are the joint initiatives?
At the 11th Ministerial Conference in December 2017, like-minded groups of members issued joint statements on advancing discussions on e-commerce, on developing a multilateral framework on investment facilitation, on launching a working group on micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) and on advancing ongoing talks on domestic regulation in services trade. These groups are open to all members.
How are the e-commerce JI negotiations conducted?
The negotiations are based on members' textual proposals made available to the whole WTO membership. They are conducted through a combination of plenary sessions, focus groups and small group meetings.
The issues raised in members' submissions are discussed under six main themes: enabling electronic commerce, openness and electronic commerce, trust and digital trade, cross-cutting issues, telecommunications, and market access.
Throughout the negotiations, participants have been encouraged by the co-conveners to consider the opportunities and challenges faced by members, including developing and least-developed countries, as well as by small businesses.
COVID-19 and the way forward
The co-conveners noted that COVID-19 has increased the urgency of developing global rules on digital trade. Despite the challenges presented by the pandemic, the negotiations have continued to advance in virtual format.
In September 2021, members issued a revised consolidated negotiating text which takes stock of progress and serves as the basis for ongoing negotiations. At a joint press conference held in December 2021, the co-conveners welcomed the progress made in the initiative. Their full statement is available here.
The initiative remains on track to deliver substantial progress by the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference.