In a move that formally counters efforts by members such as the EU, Japan, and Canada to push negotiations on e-commerce at the World Trade Organisation’s ministerial meet in Buenos Aires, India has circulated a draft ministerial decision stating that work should continue as per the current work programme based on “existing mandate and guidelines’’.

“India decided to be pro-active by circulating its own draft on e-commerce ensuring no changes in the current structure of discussions. This was needed to counter several developed members, including the EU and China, that are trying to move beyond the existing work programme and setting the tone for commencing negotiations,” a government official told BusinessLine .

Last month, a group of countries, which included the EU, Canada, Australia, Chile, South Korea and Paraguay, circulated a draft declaration seeking to establish a working party at the Buenos Aires meet and authorising it to conduct preparations for and carry out negotiations on trade-related aspects of electronic commerce on the basis of proposal by members.

“There is no way we can allow negotiations on e-commerce rules to begin at the WTO. It could be disastrous for our country as it could lead to goods coming in without duties through online trade. We want status-quo on e-commerce and that is what we have sought,” the official said.

The eleventh Ministerial Conference of the WTO in Buenos Aires from December 10 to 13 will be attended by Commerce and Industry Minister Suresh Prabhu.

In its draft ministerial decision on e-commerce circulated to all members recently, India has clearly indicated its opposition to move away from the current work programme and the existing mandate under which e-commerce discussions are taking place.

It also instructs the General Council to hold periodic reviews in its sessions in July and December 2018 and July 2019 based on the reports that may be submitted by the four WTO bodies entrusted with the implementation of the Work Programme and report to the next session of the Ministerial Conference.

“We have no issues with discussions continuing on e-commerce as originally mandated and our draft declaration reflects this position,” the official said.

A draft declaration is a proposed agreement that could become an actual declaration if enough members agree with it and relevant changes are made to it to suit all. India’s position is shared by a large number of developing countries and LDCs, including the African Group.

India has also said that a 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.

“Both the moratorium on e-transmission and TRIPS runs out this December. We can support extension of the one on e-transmission if there is no objection to the extension of the moratorium on TRIPS Non-Violation,” the official said.