Addressing a session on “Making ecommerce work for all” at the Global Review of Aid for Trade on 3 July, WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo called on the international community to tackle the digital divide and ensure that ecommerce is a force for inclusion. He highlighted the growing interest in ecommerce issues and stressed the importance of building the necessary frameworks and capacities to ensure that everybody can participate. The lack of availability of trade finance is severely hindering the trade opportunities of small businesses in developing countries in particular, according to a co-publication launched by the WTO and the International Finance Corporation on 3 July at the Global Review of Aid for Trade. The publication looks into the reasons for the growing reluctance of the global financial sector to engage in this form of financing and presents case studies of capacity-building programmes organized by the international community to address this issue.
A few years ago the WTO started a process for dealing with the global trade in products bought online. This process, known by its brain-numbing title as the “Joint Statement Initiative on Ecommerce” (JSI Ecommerce) is on its 3rd round of talks, and has been taking place in Geneva in July. Four African countries are now involved – Benin (which leads the ‘Africa Group’ at the WTO), Nigeria, Kenya and Cote d’Ivoire. This process is very important for Africa for two reasons – first, because these detailed negotiations lay a very useful basis for the negotiations on trade that will now start at the AfCFTA (see the article on the AfCFTA above). Second, because the set of rules once agreed will make global trade in online purchases easier, which will benefit SA e-merchants selling into Europe and the USA.
The discussions cover both services and goods, and range around paperless trading, customs warehouses/duty free zones, electronic invoicing, electronic transferable records, facilitation of e-payments, customs procedures and warehouses, the De minimis rules, the World Customs Organisation’s (WCO) Cross-Border Ecommerce Framework of Standards, open government data, access to the Internet, access to platforms/competition.
One of the most enthusiastic countries pushing for these negotiations is China which will be providing a detailed and ambitious proposal by early September in several areas: paperless trading and digital formalities, particularly B2C ecommerce, e-payments, cooperation and technical assistance for developing countries. For payments expect ambitious coverage of market access, transparency, regulatory cooperation in telecommunications and financial services. [This information has been made available to EFA thanks to our membership in the Digital Trade Network.]
An important part of cross-border BtoC trade is the de minimis rule – that is the value amount a consumer can receive from abroad without having to pay customs duty. In SA for example, a consumer can receive two shipments worth up to 500R each in a 12 month period. At least that is the theory, although in practice SARS often puts duties on items of far less value. In some EU countries the de minimis rule allows personal imports of up to 1,000euros.