The Importance of Bringing the WTO Joint Initiative on E-commerce Over the Finishing Line

  • The internet is a global public good that has facilitated and stimulated international services trade by lowering the barriers to entering international markets, including for micro, small and medium sized enterprises (MSMEs). It also enhances access to information for consumers and enables families and friends to stay in touch, students to learn, and doctors and patients to monitor health and access information about prevention and care.

    Although digitalisation can vastly extend MSMEs’ reach beyond the local market, MSMEs are lagging in their digital transformation relative to larger firms. Moreover, the burden of regulation in dealing with complex privacy, security and data localisation requirements falls disproportionately on MSMEs. This is concerning in the context of high services trade barriers over the past decade and growing restrictions on cross-border data flows as documented by the OECD.

    There is no doubt that global e-commerce and related cross-border data flows require governance to ensure cyber security and privacy. Interoperable rules and regulations across the globe would substantially ease the cost of trade in digitally enabled services for everyone. The WTO Joint Initiative (JI) on E-commerce, co-convened by Australia, Singapore, and Japan, is designed to fill the global governance gap. A key underlying objective is to deal with the array of differing digital regulatory approaches WTO members have adopted since the WTO Work Programme on E-commerce began in 1998, and the host of restrictive measures which have since been introduced.

    This webinar took stock of the state of play in bringing the JI over the finishing line and discussed the benefits of the agreement, remaining gaps, and the role of the WTO in governing digital services trade, cross-border data flows and international aspects of competition in the increasingly artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled digital platform economy.

    • Gerbera Choo, Singapore Delegation to the WTO
    • Pascal Kerneis, European Services Forum
    • Javier Lopez-Gonzalez, OECD
    • Hildegunn Kyvik Nordås, Council on Economic Policies
    • Jane Drake-Brockman, Australian Services Roundtable (Moderator)

    • What is the state of play in the JI discussions (scope, timeline, participants)?
    • What role can the WTO play in governing international digital markets?
    • What are the benefits of the JI and in particular how can low-income countries benefit?
    • How can the JI on E-commerce stay relevant and useful in the face of rapid technological progress, including AI?

  • Watch the recording of the webinar on YouTube