WTO members make progress in talks on e-commerce rules

Ministers from 83 nations agree to develop negotiating text by June after meeting in Davos

Trade ministers from 83 countries in talks on rules for e-commerce have agreed to develop a consolidated negotiating text by June, when the World Trade Organization (WTO) holds its 12th ministerial conference. PHOTO: S ISWARAN/FACEBOOK

Trade ministers from 83 countries, in talks on rules for e-commerce, have agreed to develop a consolidated negotiating text by June, when the World Trade Organisation (WTO) holds its 12th ministerial conference.

The ministers said they were committed to a high standard outcome, with the participation of as many WTO members as possible.

The update comes after an informal meeting of ministers on WTO electronic commerce negotiations held in Davos, Switzerland, on the sidelines of this year's World Economic Forum annual meetings.

In a joint statement, Australia, Japan and Singapore, which hosted the meeting on Friday, said the ministers "welcomed the good progress achieved over the first year of negotiations, and underscored the importance of the initiative both commercially and systemically for the WTO".

"Ministers conveyed their support for the negotiations on the trade-related aspects of electronic commerce, and emphasised the need to keep working hard to ensure substantial progress by MC12," the statement added, referring to the 12th WTO ministerial conference which will be held in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, in June.

Last week's meeting builds on the Joint Statement on E-Commerce Initiative (JSI) launched at the 11th WTO ministerial conference in Buenos Aires in December 2017, after which Australia, Japan and Singapore led exploratory work geared towards laying the foundation for WTO negotiations.

A total of 76 WTO members, including the European Union, the United States and China, confirmed their intention to start talks in Davos in January last year. There are now 83 members taking part, with the Philippines the newest joiner. Together, they represent more than 90 per cent of global trade and over half of the WTO's membership.

At the meeting, the ministers noted the importance of working in an innovative, open and inclusive manner, as well as the unique opportunities and challenges faced by members as well as by micro, small and medium-sized enterprises.

"Singapore is committed to leading negotiations on electronic commerce - alongside Japan and Australia - which is the future of global trade. It will modernise the WTO rule book to address new issues and needs in the rapidly evolving digital landscape. This will benefit large and small players alike," said Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran, who is also Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations.

"To this end, Singapore will work with other JSI members to create a forward-looking and enabling environment that will unlock the potential of the digital economy," he added in the statement.

Australian Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Simon Birmingham said of the talks: "They are a crucial opportunity to shape a global environment that promotes digital trade and supports the modern trade needs of business, while boosting privacy and other consumer protections."




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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 27, 2020, with the headline WTO members make progress in talks on e-commerce rules. Subscribe