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Discussions on Global Online Trade Continue at the WTO

The new Secretary-General of the AfCFTA, Mr Wampele Mene, has said that during the forthcoming negotiations on ecommerce at the AfCFTA (see our report below), attention will be given to the ongoing discussion at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).  The WTO Council for Trade in Services on 1 July recognised members states’ efforts to increase the digital capabilities for businesses and consumers in view of the growing importance of online services due to COVID. The Council also raised specific trade concerns related to transparency, 5G communications networks, pre-installed software, satellite operators and cybersecurity.

In response to the trend towards more online services, some WTO members proposed that the Work Programme on Electronic Commerce (JSI) should investigate how governments are helping businesses and consumers increase digital capabilities and also how members in developing countries are addressing the digital divide. This may includes providing assistance to micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and developing countries so that they can increase their share of services exports. Many developed countries presented their ongoing programmes for increasing digital capabilities in developing countries. Some developing countries stressed that improving connectivity, mastering digital tools, and enhancing international cooperation are essential to make the transition from being buyers to becoming suppliers in international services trade. Several developing countries highlighted the key role of ecommerce in supporting economic growth and development and in helping SMEs, in particular, remain active during the crisis. They also mentioned several challenges, including infrastructural constraints and the need to have access to data. They pointed to the importance of government policies that help ensure the gains from online services trade are distributed more equitably across countries.

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Alastair Tempest

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