Australia, Japan and Singapore are leading the World Trade Organization e-commerce initiative.
Industry representatives on Thursday suggested that customs issues be part of forthcoming World Trade Organization e-commerce negotiations.
“The conversation that we’ve had among our members has been about identifying how the WTO discussions can support this entire e-commerce ecosystem that exists that helps businesses do business internationally,” National Foreign Trade Council Vice President for Global Trade and Innovation Jake Colvin said. “For us, that means supporting digital trade issues, services market access, transparency, as well as physical issues, including trade facilitation and customs challenges.”
Exploratory talks for a formal WTO e-commerce dialogue have recently gained momentum, and 76 WTO members earlier this year announced their intent to launch formal negotiations at some point.
Customs facilitation, paperless trading, market access, data flows and transparency of e-commerce measures and regulations have been raised as possible issues to be covered by talks.
It could be useful for talks to explore how benefits might accrue to businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, in association with the WTO-mandated moratorium on customs duties on electronic transmissions, Coalition of Services Industries President Christine Bliss said during the Washington International Trade Association event.
It also would be appropriate for talks to recognize that any revenues derived from customs duties on electronic transmissions would have net negative economic effects, Bliss said.
Any trade-related e-commerce proposal will be on the table at the outset of formal negotiations, said Elisabeth Bowes, minister-counsellor for trade at the Embassy of Australia in Washington.
Australia, Japan and Singapore are leading the WTO e-commerce initiative.
“We expect … that there will be a significant role for education and advocacy by the private sector as well as governments,” Bowes said.
Bowes said it’s premature to discuss deadlines but she anticipates that it will take “some time” for the currently 76-member group to reach agreement on a final product.
Information Technology Industry Council Executive Vice President for Policy Josh Kallmer said he’s heard from several delegations of developing countries that they want to be in a position to support high e-commerce standards, but they also are concerned about impacts to domestic competitiveness and growth.
E-commerce discussions have attracted “a great deal” of support from developing countries that see commitments in the area as essential to their growth, development and support for small businesses, Colvin said.
Colvin has talked with officials from developing countries, including Costa Rica, Uruguay, Colombia, Nigeria and Benin, who weighed in regarding their development-related interests for e-commerce negotiations, he said.
“I do see development as a fundamental goal of these negotiations,” Colvin said.
Moreover, negotiations should address the consumer’s role in e-commerce trade, Georgetown University Law Center Professor Anupam Chander said.
“If we can create a new paradigm for international trade law that not only ensures that things can travel across borders, but that things are safe when they travel across borders, that your personal protections aren’t eviscerated as you now interface with companies across the world, I think that’s critical in all this,” Chander said. “Any framework can’t just be written to protect the industrial powers that want to sell goods across borders and sell services across borders. It must be written with consumers first and foremost in mind.”