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The Ecommerce Negotiations at the World Trade Organisation (WTO)

We have reported on this new initiative, set up following the WTO’s summit in Argentina at the end of 2017. Called the “JSI”, the initiative is designed to reduce barriers to trade for products (goods and services) bought online and sold across frontiers. The ISJ group which is open to all WTO members has 4 African countries – Nigeria, Benin, Ivory Coast and Kenya. SA has opted not to join the group, although perhaps the new Minister for Trade will be more open to becoming involved. As we know, many countries impose both tariffs and non-tariff barriers on foreign merchants selling cross-frontier. Many of the items discussed in the present round are extremely technical and include: electronic signatures ; electronic transactions; electronic contracts; electronic invoicing; ePayments ; consumer protection regulations; unsolicited communications (spam); non-discriminatory treatment of digital products; interactive computer services (liability); interactive computer services (cooperation), etc.

In many cases a member state or a group of member states will put forward a paper as the basis for discussion on each specific issue.

It is not surprising that China is the leader in these negotiations, and it is reveling to see their approach. This is an extract from the Chinese paper to the ISJ committee, which calls for widespread liberalisation of ecommerce: “Members shall endeavour to adjust their trade policies in a flexible manner for improvements to adapt to such new development of trade, including but not limited to:

a. specifying, with respect to trade in goods, policies of customs duties and charges, and internal taxes and other internal charges that are applicable to cross-border E-commerce where products are sold online and later physically delivered to consumers or buyers within their territories, including limit on transaction value of each consumer or buyer, and/or limit on scope of products under such policies, if any;

b. specifying non-tariff measures such as import quotas and licenses, registration or filing for record requirements, conformity assessment procedures and etc. that are applicable or related to cross-border E-commerce and simplifying or exempting such non-tariff measures to the extent practical and possible, meanwhile identifying where such simplification and exemption are not applicable.“

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Alastair Tempest

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