WTO concludes talks on global e-commerce rules 

WTO concludes talks on global e-commerce rules 

WTO global e-commerce rules 
Image by 3D Animation Production Company from Pixabay
  • The World Trade Organization has concluded talks on global e-commerce rules for a more reliable global digital economy
  • The rules cover digital trade facilitation, open digital environment, and trust-building for simplified import/export processes and seamless digital transactions
  • They focus on resolving outstanding issues in 2024, including customs duties, development, electronic payments, ICT products, and telecommunications services
  • Digitally delivered products in global trade reached $3.82 trillion last year, making up 54% of services trade, with an 8.1% average annual growth over nearly two decades

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has concluded talks on global e-commerce rules, setting the stage for a more reliable and streamlined global digital economy.

The discussions could wrap up this year, according to countries organizing the talks.

The rules cover digital trade facilitation, an open digital environment, and business and consumer trust, are set to simplify import and export processes while promoting seamless digital transactions across various sectors of world trade.

The “substantial conclusion of negotiations on a number of global digital trade rules that will facilitate electronic transactions, promote digital trade facilitation, and foster an open and trusted digital economy” was jointly announced by co-convenors Australia, Japan and Singapore.

The development, through the WTO Joint Statement Initiative on Electronic Commerce (JSI), was achieved after five years of talks, and is crucial as the International Monetary Fund noted the value of digitally delivered products in global trade reached $3.82 trillion last year, making up 54% of services trade. Over nearly two decades, it has demonstrated an average annual growth rate of 8.1%, outpacing other categories such as goods.

“This is a significant milestone after five years of negotiations. These rules will bring important commercial value and impact for governments, businesses and consumers by helping participants integrate into the global digital economy,” said Singapore minister for trade and industry, Gan Kim Yong.

The JSI’s focus for 2024 will be on resolving outstanding issues, including Customs duties on electronic transmissions, development, electronic payments, information and communications technology products using cryptography, and telecommunications services.

Australian minister for trade and tourism, Don Farrell, highlighted the importance of setting a strong baseline for digital trade rules with the historic deal.

Japan’s minister for foreign affairs, Kamikawa Yoko, acknowledged the substantial progress made and emphasized Japan’s commitment to working towards an early conclusion of the negotiation.

“These rules will contribute to facilitating digital trade further and represent the outcome of intense negotiations conducted by the participants over the last five years. Japan is committed to working with the participants to achieve an early conclusion of this negotiation,” Kamikawa said.

WTO director-general Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala underscored the unique opportunity the JSI presents for participants to design shared global rules that enhance stability, predictability, and lower costs for businesses in the fast-growing cross-border trade.

“Participants are demonstrating how they can deliver practical, everyday benefits for businesses and consumers whilst building a digital economy that aims to benefit people everywhere,” she said.

China’s minister of commerce, Wang Wentao, recognized the international consensus on promoting digital and green development of trade. He highlighted the WTO JSI as the core platform for global digital trade rule-making, expressing hope for high-standard, balanced, and inclusive digital trade rules.

European Commission executive vice-president, EU trade commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis, welcomed the development of important global digital trade rules. He emphasized that an agreement on a broad range of digital trade rules at the WTO will facilitate digital trade for consumers and businesses, particularly micro, small and medium enterprises.

In Africa, Gambia minister of communications and digital economy, Ousman A. Bah, sees the JSI as a pivotal opportunity to foster a secure, inclusive, and human-centric digital future. Gambia applauded the significant progress made in the negotiations in 2023, recognizing its potential for digital inclusivity and economic growth.

Kazakhstan vice-minister of trade and integration, Zhanel Kushukova, acknowledged substantial progress in WTO e-commerce negotiations. Kazakhstan, experiencing a surge in e-commerce, aligns with the JSI’s commitment to building a regulatory framework conducive to innovation, inclusivity, and fair competition.

The United Arab Emirates minister of state for foreign trade, H.E. Dr. Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, welcomed the substantial conclusion of the JSI negotiations as a significant contribution to the progressive development of global trade rules. He commended the collaborative spirit demonstrated by all participants in crafting this framework.

United Kingdom minister of state for trade policy, Greg Hands, sees the e-commerce JSI as a historic opportunity to deliver the first-ever set of baseline global digital trade rules in the WTO. He commended the progress made in 2023 and emphasized the need for an agreement that is ambitious, inclusive, and commercially meaningful.

The United States trade representative, Ambassador Katherine Tai, welcomed the progress on the JSI and commended the hard work of the co-conveners and the 90 members involved. The US will continue working in 2024 to achieve further progress for meaningful benefits to workers, businesses, governments, and the public, she said.

The JSI was initiated in 2017 by 71 WTO members who committed to addressing various aspects of e-commerce. Despite the recent progress made, there are remaining tasks to address, such as customs duties on electronic transmissions, electronic payments, information and communications technology products using cryptography, and telecommunications services.

The WTO, with 164 member countries, plays a crucial role in creating a universally accepted and enforceable legal system for businesses worldwide, focusing on trade rules.

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