Q2/2019 - World Trade Organization (WTO)

Geneva, 2 April 2019

In January 2019, in the margins of the World Economic Forum in Davos, 78 WTO members had announced in a "Joint Initiative for eCommerce" that they would start official negotiations on a legal framework for eCommerce. A first informal meeting was held in Geneva in April 2019 to discuss issues and priorities for future negotiations. The G20 Summit in Osaka at the end of June 2019 gave further momentum to these WTO negotiations. In the "G20 Osaka Declaration on the Digital Economy", the leaders of the 20 largest industrial nations supported the "Joint Initiative on eCommerce" and agreed on the principle of "Data Free Flow with Trust" as a guideline for these e-commerce negotiations (Osaka Track). WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo also called on the other WTO members to get involved in these negotiations. He pointed out that the 78 WTO members represented 90 percent of global trade and emphasised that the digital world should not be allowed to become fragmented[1]. However, three G20 countries – India, South Africa and Indonesia – rejected the Osaka Track.


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  1. [1] Speech of WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo at the G20 Summit in Osaka, 28 June 2019: "A fragmentation of the digital economy would hurt us all. It would mean higher costs and higher barriers to entry, affecting developing countries and smaller businesses the most. The 20th century showed that a fractured global trade order was not sustainable – that’s why we created the WTO. The same is true today. You may well be working on a constitution for the economy of the 21st century. Prime Minister Abe has shown real leadership in placing a strong focus on the digital economy during this G20 Presidency. The Osaka Track commits the participants to promoting global rules on digital trade. We are working to deliver this through the WTO – and we’ve already seen huge leaps forward being taken. Negotiations are now underway between 78 WTO members, representing 90% of global trade. This is a real revolution in global trade. Most G20 members are on board. If determination is there, there will be success.", see https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news19_e/dgra_28jun19_e.htm>. See also speech of WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo, Geneva, 3 July 2019: "While a lot of work needs to happen domestically, the international community can also play an important role to that end. Over the past few years, at the WTO, we have witnessed growing interest in discussing e-commerce issues in more detail. This includes the work under the existing Work Programme on Electronic Commerce. And it includes the Joint Initiative on E-commerce. This initiative, which is open to all WTO members, now includes 78 members representing 90% of global trade. And they have now begun negotiations on e‑commerce issues, as they relate to trade. We are seeing discussions touch upon a range of issues, including conversations related to development. Participants are interested in understanding the unique challenges faced by developing countries and LDCs and what kind of assistance they need to participate in e-commerce flows. This is encouraging. This effort should be as inclusive as possible. We can't allow a fragmentation of the digital world. It would mean higher costs and higher barriers to entry, affecting developing countries and smaller businesses the most. In fact, this was a strong message that has also emerged from the G20 Summit in Osaka, where leaders launched the "Osaka track" to help guide these efforts. I think the international community has a unique opportunity now to address some of the fundamental challenges of the digital economy and build a more inclusive trading system. " See: https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/spra_e/spra274_e.htm>