15 February 2021
WTO E-commerce Negotiations Make Progress on Spam
Photo credit: Rodion Kutsaev/Unsplash
story highlights

E-commerce negotiations aim to facilitate digital trade and are anticipated to play a key role in economic recovery from COVID-19.

Members are focusing on six themes: enabling e-commerce; openness and e-commerce; trust and e-commerce; market access; telecommunications; and cross-cutting issues.

World Trade Organization (WTO) members continued negotiations on electronic commerce, which aim to facilitate digital trade and build on existing WTO agreements and frameworks. Finalization of the joint statement initiative (JSI) process on e-commerce and facilitation of digital trade are anticipated to play a key role in economic recovery from COVID-19.

The WTO launched negotiations on trade-related aspects of e-commerce in January 2019, with 76 members participating. There are now 86 participating members, accounting for more than 90% of global trade and representing all major geographic regions and development levels.

Members met for negotiations in early February, including in plenary, focus group, and small group discussions. Members are focusing on six themes: enabling e-commerce; openness and e-commerce; trust and e-commerce; market access; telecommunications; and cross-cutting issues. Members discussed market access, paperless trading, online consumer protection, and open government data in small groups. Facilitators reported encouraging progress on streamlining the negotiating text in these small groups.

WTO members finalized a clean negotiating text on unsolicited commercial messages, commonly referred to as “spam.” The text aims to minimize spam messages in e-commerce. Members also discussed draft text on facilitating electronic transactions, which addresses the establishment of legal frameworks at the domestic level to avoid regulatory burdens on e-commerce and ensure non-discrimination. Discussions also took place on draft text on electronic contracts and electronic invoicing.

The negotiating groups on e-authentication and e-signature also made progress during discussions on 5 February. Members will address these topics in small group discussions in the future, with the aim of maintaining momentum and making continued progress on negotiations.

The JSI on e-commerce has three co-conveners from Australia, Japan, and Singapore. Ambassador Hung Seng Tan (Singapore) called for the small groups to prioritize “cleaning up” issues that members have extensively dealt with to enable discussions on other issues. He said the co-conveners are considering involving ministers to resolve issues where members views remain divided.

Ambassador George Mina (Australia) welcomed members’ progress, and commended their flexibility, creativity, and hard work during a challenging year. Ambassador Mina stressed that members must intensify the pace of discussion to deliver on the goal of substantial progress by the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12). 

The JSI on e-commerce is one of several such processes, which include JSIs are on investment facilitation, on services domestic regulation, on micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), and on trade and gender. [WTO Press Release on 5 February Negotiations] [WTO Press Release on December Negotiations] [JSI on E-Commerce: Co-Conveners’ Update] [WTO Background on E-Commerce]


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