The ball has been set rolling for a possible deal in e-commerce at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) during next year’s Ministerial Conference. China recently submitted a detailed proposal on how to carry out negotiations on e-commerce, and more than 20 members, including the EU, the US and Brazil, have given their suggestions on its scope and scale.

India, Russia, Colombia and South Africa have, however, said that talks on e-commerce should be conducted in their mandated committees, indicating that attempts to fast-track decisions by pushing comprehensive proposals at a single forum must be discouraged.

“Four WTO bodies were given the responsibility of carrying out the ‘work programme on electronic commerce’ adopted by the WTO in 1998, which included the councils for trade in services, trade in goods, TRIPS and the Committee on Trade and Development. No member should be allowed to push a comprehensive proposal at whatever forum they chose,” a government official told BusinessLine .

China’s proposal, co-sponsored by Pakistan and recently discussed at the WTO’s Goods Council meeting, contains three discussion points. These include trade facilitation for cross-border e-commerce, transparency on e-commerce policies and assistance to improve infrastructure and technical conditions for developing country members.

It also suggests the exchange of information on regulations, such as consumer protection, privacy, and intellectual property rights. China said it would be best to include only those services, such as payments and logistics, which directly support merchandise trade. However, it added that discussions at this stage should not lead to new market access commitments. “Work on e-commerce should proceed progressively with priority given to easy issues,” says China’s proposal.

Against cherry-picking

New Delhi has maintained that it was opposed to the policy of cherry-picking. “In the name of easy issues, several members try to push their own agendas. Although China is not talking about new market access commitments at the moment, once negotiations begin with the objective of arriving at a deal, the final outcome could take any shape. India, therefore, needs to be very careful,” the official added.

India does not allow foreign direct investment (FDI) in the inventory model of e-commerce, where a company sells its own items through an e-platform.