NEW DELHI: Days after India submitted a document opposing any talks on cross-border digital trade at the World Trade Organization (WTO), the EU, Canada and Australia, among others, have upped the ante and proposed negotiations on the trade aspect of e-commerce. In a proposal made on Tuesday, a group of 15 countries has explicitly asked the WTO for a mandate to negotiate the terms and frame rules for disciplines in e-commerce.
“More pressure is being built as these countries have talked about a mandate to negotiate and not merely discuss disciplines in e-commerce,” said a person aware of the development.India has maintained that e-commerce per se may be good for development but it may not be prudent to begin talks since many countries don’t fully understand the implications of negotiating binding rules and hence opposed any talks on the matter. However, as per the person, this development will need a “valiant effort by India” to resist pressure to allow negotiations at the ministerial in Buenos Aires from December 10 to 13.
The advocates of the paper have also proposed to establish a working party on e-commerce that will conduct preparations for and carry out negotiations on trade-related aspects of electronic commerce, which as per experts is done when the WTO is ready to adopt a new discipline. Setting up a working group is usually the first exploratory step after which a working party is established to set the stage for adopting and framing rules for a certain discipline.
“These countries are short-circuiting the norms to make a working party first,” said Biswajit Dhar, professor-Centre for Economic Studies and Planning at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Four WTO bodies are charged with the responsibility of carrying out the work programme adopted in 1998 that talks about competition, privacy protection, transparency, customs duties and rules of origin, among other issues.
ET View: Review Needed
The government needs to review its stance on cross-border e-commerce. International trade involves digital documentation and online transactions, and we need to pay heed to the potential of cross-border e-commerce. It would make sense to stay involved in the trade negotiations. Doing otherwise is unlikely to improve India’s competitive advantage in trade in goods and services.