A group of 75 countries announced its decision on Friday to launch negotiations on the trade-related aspects of e-commerce at the WTO, but India has decided to steer clear of the plurilateral talks.

“India will not even be an observer at the plurilateral negotiations at the moment. We do not think the time is right for the country to take on multilateral obligations in the area of e-commerce rules,” a government official told BusinessLine .

The announcement of the plan to start the e-commerce negotiations was made at the on-going World Economic Forum (WEF) meet in Davos. “We confirm our intention to commence WTO negotiations on the trade-related aspects of e-commerce,” said a joint statement of the 75 countries that include EU members, the US, China, Japan, Australia, Russia, Brazil, Turkey, Peru, Myanmar, Nigeria and New Zealand. “We will seek to achieve a high standard outcome that builds on existing WTO agreements and frameworks with the participation of as many WTO members as possible.”

Plurilateral initiatives will strike at the roots of the multilateral system, Indian Commerce Secretary Anup Wadhawan said in his statement in Davos.

“Hence, we are not persuaded about the merit of the plurilateral initiatives. In e-commerce, we already have a multilateral work programme agreed to by ministers, which will be undermined by the plurilateral initiative,” he said.

More than half of the 164 WTO members, including large developing countries such as India, South Africa and Argentina, have decided not to be part of the talks.

Not an observer either

India, which was earlier considering the possibility of becoming an observer if the e-commerce negotiations were launched, has decided against it now as it could lead to more pressure for participation.

The Indian delegation to the WTO, at a meeting on e-commerce last October, had reportedly stated that developing countries needed policy space in areas such as ownership and use and flow of data in sunrise sectors like cloud computing and data storage.

“We are in the process of framing our own e-commerce policy. It will help us understand better the effects of e-commerce on competition and our overall economy.

“Without such an understanding,, India is not in a position to negotiate a multilateral agreement,” the official added.

Recent tightening of e-commerce market-place rules by the government has led to protests from companies such as Amazon and Flipkart and also rumblings in Davos, where many countries have called for a stable e-commerce policy environment in India.

Joining forces against the proposed e-commerce negotiations at the WTO, a group of civil society organisations from various countries issued a statement opposing the talks on the grounds that it would constrain policy space for development.