“The fact that 70 countries, both developing and developed, are supporting a positive agenda to create a better environment for a digital trade framework is a tremendous boost for the e-commerce economy,” Rufus Yerxa, president of the National Foreign Trade Council, said in a statement. “It is an indication that countries around the globe are realizing how much new technologies drive entrepreneurship and benefit businesses of all sizes.”
“E-commerce is a global phenomenon that has provided new opportunities for small entrepreneurs to access a worldwide marketplace for their goods,” said Michael Mullen, executive director of the Express Association of America, which represents UPS, FedEx and DHL. “The WTO can play a key role in ensuring e-commerce continues to thrive by defining best practices that promote fair and competitive e-commerc regulatory environments.”
The WTO said it plans to “reinvigorate” its work in the area of e-commerce. The General Council is expected to hold periodic reviews of the business in its sessions in July and December 2018 and July 2019, and report to the next Ministerial Conference.
“We agree to maintain the current practice of not imposing customs duties on electronic transmissions until our next session which we have decided to hold in 2019,” the trade body added.
“The United States is pleased to partner with 70 WTO members to initiate exploratory work on negotiations on electronic commerce issues in the WTO,” said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who echoed the Trump administration’s concerns with the WTO’s progress in remarks earlier this week. “The digital economy serves as a critical engine of domestic and global economic growth, and all countries would benefit from the development of strong, market-based rules in this area.
“The launch of this initiative marks a significant milestone, with a large group of countries now working together to move forward in this important area within the WTO. Initiatives like this among like-minded countries offer a positive way forward for the WTO in the future,” he said.
EAA’s Mullen said it will be important for the WTO initiative's members to routinely interact with the industry for input. “The express industry has extensive experience with e-commerce and hopes the WTO will reach out to private sector stakeholders to assist in the development of policies that foster e-commerce enabled trade,” he said.
Many countries are struggling with how best to handle the crunch of e-commerce, often shipped in small packages, crossing their borders, as well as implementing processes to sift out the illegal and dangerous goods. The industry remains concerned that some countries may react to the boom in e-commerce by imposing new regulations and tariffs.