India and South Africa are likely to take the lead in attempting a convergence amongst developing countries on e-commerce talks at the World Trade Organisation, to highlight that a permanent moratorium on customs duty on electronic transmission will lead to revenue losses.

At the informal WTO ministerial meeting of developing and least developed countries on May 13-14 in New Delhi, extensive discussions will take place on the pitfalls of binding rules on e-commerce on poorer countries.

Other issues such as WTO reforms and the crisis in dispute settlement mechanism will also be discussed, a government official told BusinessLine .

“India and South Africa circulated a joint paper last year pointing out that with a permanent moratorium on customs duty on e-transmissions, developing countries with limited resources would suffer increased revenue losses in the form of customs duty foregone, as the ambit of e-commerce is continuously widening. Hopefully, developing countries attending the meeting would agree,” the official said.

Members’ interests

Since about 75 countries, led by developed country members, have launched pluri-lateral talks on e-commerce at the WTO, it is a good time for developing countries to discuss common concerns related to e-commerce, the official said.

The 22 countries that have been invited to the Ministerial meeting — including Bangladesh, Nigeria, China, Egypt, Guyana, Malawi, Brazil, and Kazakhstan — will brainstorm on straightforward matters such as whether binding rules on e-commerce could result in concrete gains for poorer countries. In addition, nuanced issues, such as the possibility of developing nations influencing the outcome of negotiations, will also be explored.

“Developing countries also need to be clear on how interests of members that are not part of a pluri-lateral agreement be protected, if the agreement is included within the WTO framework without consensus of its entire membership,” the official said.

“Maintaining the development focus is essential through continuation of special and differential treatment. We are seeing attempts by developed countries to deprive larger developing countries of concessions in the on-going negotiations to cap fisheries subsidies,” the official said.