Q4/2019 - World Trade Organization (WTO)

WTO Council, Geneva, 9 – 10 December 2019

On 10 December 2019, the WTO Council decided to extend again the moratorium on the non-taxation of e-commerce transactions, which had been in place since 1998. However, the extension will only be valid until 11 June 2020, when the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference will take place in Nursultan/Kazakhstan. The moratorium has been criticised for years, especially by developing countries. They think that they are losing millions of euros in revenues from digital trade due to the moratorium. The ongoing negotiations - including those that have been started under the title "Osaka Track" after the G20 summit in June 2019 - shall be continued rapidly until the Ministerial Conference in June 2020[1]. Digital trade and digital tax are also priority issues of the Saudi Arabian G20 presidency in 2020.

WTO Blockchain Forum, Geneva, 2 – 3 December 2019

On 2 December 2019, the WTO organised a Global Trade and Blockchain Forum. WTO Deputy Director-General Yi Xiaozhun said at the opening that a global policy for dealing with this technology and greater coordination between all affected and involved stakeholders was needed[2].  Blockchain technology opened up many new opportunities, especially for developing countries. It must be understood, however, that this was not primarily a technical issue, but one that must be integrated into national digitisation strategies and corresponding regulations. Therefore "multi-stakeholder and cross-sectoral discussions" were necessary, which the WTO could support on a lasting basis.

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  1. [1] WTO Work Programme on electronic commerce, General Council Decision, Genf, 10. Dezember 2019: „The General Council decides as follows: Members agree to reinvigorate the work under the Work Programme on Electronic Commerce, based on the existing mandate as set out in WT/L/274. The work will include structured discussions in early 2020 based on all trade-related topics of interest brought forward by Members, including LDCs, including on scope, definition and impact of the moratorium on customs duties on electronic transmissions. Members agree to maintain the current practice of not imposing customs duties on electronic transmissions until the 12th Ministerial Conference.“ In: https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news19_e/gc_10dec19_e.htm
  2. [2] WTO Global Trade and Blockchain Forum, Rede des stellvertretenden WTO Generaldirektor Yi Xiaozhun, Genf, 2. Dezember 2019: „The trade landscape is changing fast, driven by technological developments. A myriad of projects endeavour to make trade more efficient, more transparent and more inclusive. This is good news. But will this be sufficient? Technology is only a tool. If we want this technology to truly transform international trade, we will need more than simply the technology. For example, many of the projects that are being developed follow a siloed and disconnected approach, leading to fragmentation between systems and networks. This is what is often called the “digital island problem”. Solving this problem will require more than technical solutions. It will require alignment of key stakeholders on issues such as data models and processes. And this can only be done through multi-stakeholder and cross-sectoral discussions. Likewise, some action may be needed at a policy level to provide a secure and predictable regulatory environment that allows the technology to be deployed on a large scale. Blockchain can accelerate the digitalization of international trade, but it can only do so if the legislative framework allows for transactions to be carried out through digital means and if those transactions are recognized as legal and valid — if, for example, laws recognize the validity of e-signatures and e-documents, not only at the national level, but also in a cross-border context. Empowering developing countries and the smallest players to reap the benefits that this technology opens is also a must. No doubt, blockchain opens interesting opportunities. But it also raises legal, regulatory and policy issues that deserve our attention — that deserve the attention of all stakeholders.“ https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news19_e/ddgyx_02dec19_e.htm