Talks on the proposed global rules on e-commerce are likely to take centre stage during the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Director-General Roberto Azevêdo’s two-day visit to India starting February 8, officials said.
India has been opposing attempts, mainly by the rich nations, to incorporate what it calls, ‘new issues’ such as e-commerce and investment in the ongoing Doha Round talks of the WTO on the grounds that it would lead to the ‘dilution’ of the ‘development agenda’ (that is to improve the trading prospects of developing countries) of the negotiations.
While it is not against informal and non-binding discussions on issues like e-commerce, New Delhi has said these topics cannot be made part of the formal agenda of WTO negotiations without consensus among all the WTO member nations.
Fear of MNCs
During the recent stakeholder discussions on e-commerce, several Indian companies had expressed reservations regarding a global, regional or bilateral pact on e-commerce fearing it would favour multinational firms, official sources told The Hindu .
India’s e-commerce policy is not yet evolved for it to take a stand regarding a global e-commerce pact, they said, adding that there were differences between ministries on issues such as ‘data localisation.’ The sources said inter-ministerial discussions were also being held regarding policies on cybersecurity and hacking, fake goods and piracy, net-neutrality as well as on safeguards to protect consumer data and ensure privacy.
Mr. Azevêdo will be in New Delhi on February 8 for meetings with government representatives and the private sector. He would also be taking part in an International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) event in the national capital, the WTO said, adding that on February 9, he would speak at an event organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry.
As per the WTO, in 2015, global e-commerce in goods and services was worth about $22 trillion, and has grown the fastest in emerging economies.
The ICC and the B20 (business associations from G20 members or the 20 major economies) had in September 2016 proposed that “WTO members (should) give active consideration to launching new talks on a holistic package of trade disciplines, rules and assistance to boost MSME (micro, small & medium enterprises) e-commerce with an overriding objective to promote inclusive growth.”
The ICC-B20 report also said: “It is proposed that such a WTO package could be built around three pillars: (i) enhancing connectivity and capacity building for e-commerce; (ii) enabling MSMEs to get goods sold online to consumers more efficiently (“Trade Facilitation 2.0”); and (iii) digital rules to support online growth and build consumer trust.”
In its policy recommendations to G20 leaders at the 2016 G20 Hangzhou (China) summit, ICC had said: “Recognising the importance of e-commerce for the world economy, WTO Members agreed in 1998 to a standstill whereby no customs duties are imposed on e-commerce transmissions.
“This standstill should be made permanent to build confidence in the growth of e-commerce and the millions of companies worldwide that provide goods and services through e-commerce transactions.”
In May 2016, at an ICC-B20 event facilitated by the WTO, Sunil Mittal, chairman of Bharti Enterprises and ICC First Vice Chairman (Mittal was elected as ICC Chairman in June 2016) had said: “The WTO needs to develop rules and standards to make sure that the efficient growth of e-commerce is secured, since it has the potential to revolutionise trade flows around the world.”