India has for the first time submitted a formal document opposing any talks on e-commerce at the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The submission comes ahead of the key ministerial conference of the WTO, where India is likely to face pressure from many countries to begin talks to open cross-border digital trade.
The document submitted by India at WTO is a proposed agreement that could become an actual announcement if enough members are in agreement with it and pertinent changes are made to it to suit all.
With this document, India said that rapid developments in manufacturing through 3-D printing, the absence of customs duty could have a severe adverse impact on the domestic manufacturing sector.
It has clearly stated its consistent stand that it is not in favour of doing anything beyond the work programme. India’s position is shared by a large number of developing countries and LDCs, including the African Group.
India, referring to the programme on e-commerce adopted by the WTO members in 1998, has stated that it would carry on the work under the Work Programme on electronic commerce based on the existing guidelines and mandate.
India has embarked that e-commerce per se may be good for development but it may not be wise to begin talks since many countries don’t fully understand the repercussions of negotiating binding rules.
Through the submitted document India also asked the highest decision-making body of WTO (General Council), for periodic reviews based on reports made by agencies responsible for carrying out of the work programme and “report to the next session of the ministerial conference”.
E-Commerce in WTO negotiations
E-commerce entered the WTO in 1998 when member countries approved not to impose customs duties on electronic transmissions, and the moratorium has been extended periodically.
However, since last year, many WTO members have made submissions on various aspects of digital trade such as cross-border data flows, technology transfer, server localisation, source code, intellectual property rights, consumer protection and trade facilitation aspects of e-commerce.
While the United States last year proposed a proposal on e-commerce prohibiting digital customs duties, promoting a free and open internet and preventing localisation barriers, enabling cross-border data flows, China wants smooth norms for goods ordered over the internet but physically delivered.
The EU, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Pakistan and Nigeria too want outcomes in e-commerce disciplines.
Passionate efforts are now being made by some member countries to secure a mandate to initiate comprehensive negotiations on e-commerce. In the run-up to the ministerial conference in Buenos Aires, some members want to convert this temporary suspension on customs duty on electronic transmissions into a permanent one.
This could result in considerable leakage of revenue as more products and services get delivered through electronic transmissions.
India opined that any call on the moratorium on electronics transmission should be taken based on the moratorium on TRIPS Non-Violation and Situation Complaints. While the moratorium on electronics transmission allows duty-free imports till the period continues, the one on TRIPS Non-Violation disallows disputes to be filed if TRIPS provisions have not been violated.
So far, both moratoriums have been given extensions together.
The World Trade Organization (WTO) is the only global international organization dealing with the rules of trade between nations. At its heart are the WTO agreements, negotiated and signed by the bulk of the world’s trading nations and ratified in their parliaments. The goal is to ensure that trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible.
Four WTO bodies are charged with the responsibility of carrying out the work programme: the Council for Trade in Services, the Council for Trade in Goods, the Council for TRIPS and the Committee on Trade and Development.
Where: At WTO