India, South Africa oppose plurilateral initiative for e-commerce at WTO

Amiti Sen New Delhi | Updated on March 06, 2021

EU, Canada, Chile, the US, Nigeria speak in favour of such joint initiatives

India and South Africa have opposed an on-going joint initiative at the WTO by some countries, including influential members such as the US, the EU, Canada and Australia, to frame a pact on e-commerce rules. The two said that the urgent need is to build capacity in digital skills and digital infrastructure, rather than negotiating binding rules.

The United States, in its comments at the recent meeting of the WTO Council for Trade in Services, said the interventions by South Africa and India were a ”distraction” to the rich discussion taking place on electronic commerce at the council, a Geneva-based official told BusinessLine.

Others such as the EU, Canada, Chile and Nigeria, too, spoke in favour of holding plurilateral discussions on e-commerce.

South Africa and India had recently submitted a paper questioning the legal basis of the joint initiatives and said that they thought plurilateral efforts were detrimental to the rule-based multilateral trading system under the WTO.

“As there has been a tentative decision on holding the next Ministerial Conference of the WTO later this year in Geneva, there would be attempts by proponents of joint initiatives in various areas, including e-commerce, to reach an agreement by then. India and South Africa are opposed to this as they are of the view that many developing countries are not ready for an agreement on e-commerce rules yet,” a Delhi-based source said.

The problem with plurilateral agreements could be that members who decide to opt-out would not have any role in determining the shape of such pacts but they may also be deprived of benefits offered to each other by participants if these are not offered to all members.

“At the meeting, India argued that the implications of e-commerce on market structures and technical issues such as data storage, transfer of technology and loss of traditional jobs, were not fully understood by many developing countries. There were also gaps in e-commerce policies in many countries. These should be discussed and addressed first,” the trade official said.

India is trying to frame an e-commerce policy that would take care of all stake-holders but is juggling with multiple issues, including data sharing and data privacy, which need to be carefully sorted out.

It also alerted members of the existing and widening digital divide among WTO members that has been evident during the Covid-19 crisis and said that the urgent need is to build capacity in areas such as digital skills and digital infrastructure, rather than negotiating binding rules on e-commerce.

Published on March 06, 2021

Follow us on Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Linkedin. You can also download our Android App or IOS App.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

You May Also Like