TAF2+ sponsored a retreat for developing countries from 14-15 December in Evian, France to review and discuss ongoing work on e-commerce in the WTO. The workshop brought together around 30 delegates and resource persons, as well as staff from the TAF 2+ Fund Management team, to examine the challenges and solutions on e-commerce for developing country and LDC consumers, businesses and policymakers with a view to ensuring that they are well equipped to represent their interests in WTO conversations. Discussions centered on the critical role of sharing national experiences, building coalitions between key stakeholders, and promoting inter-operability between rules and standards at the regional level.
Event Director Alicia Greenidge guided discussions on the significance of the 1998 WTO E-Commerce Declaration and on subsequent issues arising from the Work Programme. Discussions covered classification and definitional issues in relation to electronic transmissions, and considered them in view of today’s questions against the backdrop of the roll-out of disruptive technologies, for example 3D printing in driving household-to-household exchanges.
The event was designed to zoom-in on developing country concerns and priorities on the e-commerce agenda in the WTO and approaches to the digital divide, including weighing up proposals related to a possible development dimension inherent in the technologies and issues on the agenda. In this respect, participants discussed issues at the crux of both facilitating and enabling e-commerce, and underlined the importance of developing robust physical infrastructure, strengthening technical capacities, and putting in place commensurate institutional and legal frameworks to promote trust.
Participants also evaluated the challenges and opportunities posed by e-commerce at the firm level for participation in trade, including the role of digital platforms, identifying common barriers for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises to conduct e-commerce across the business cycle.
Discussions focused on the trade-offs with data localisation and access to platforms and tariffs compared with taxation issues from economic and social standpoints, including case examples of how to meet public policy goals (for example related to privacy, national security and revenue collection feasible from e-commerce market participants), practices by developed, developing countries and LDCs alike, and treatment of e-commerce in recent free trade agreements. To close, participants divided into teams to undertake a simulation exercise, aimed at promoting an interactive debate on the issues.