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India studying e-commerce issues at WTO

Some developed nations, especially the US, have been vigorously pushing for the inclusion of new topics at the WTO

By: | Updated: September 20, 2016 7:21 AM
world trade organisation Some developed nations, especially the US, have been vigorously pushing for the inclusion of new topics such as e-commerce and government procurement for negotiations at the WTO. (Reuters)

India is studying various countries’ take on e-commerce at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to shape its own views on the issue at the multilateral trade forum in future, according to a senior government official.

Some developed nations, especially the US, have been vigorously pushing for the inclusion of new topics such as e-commerce and government procurement for negotiations at the WTO. For its part, India says while it isn’t averse to discussions on the new topics at the WTO, it wouldn’t offer any binding commitments on them unless and until long-pending issues under the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) in 2001 — including the reduction of trade-distorting farm subsidies offered by developed nations — were taken to their logical conclusion, the official told FE.

Nevertheless, India wants to equip itself with adequate inputs on e-commerce so that it can address them effectively at the WTO as and when required, hence the study. “Our stance on how we intend to treat new issues at the WTO still remains unchanged,” he clarified.

The study and further understanding of e-commerce could strengthen India’s own definition of it, to be used for domestic policy-making, as time progresses. According to the government’s consolidated foreign direct investment policy circular 2016, e-commerce “means buying and selling of goods and services including digital products over digital and electronic network”. Analysts have said such a definition is too broad and simplistic, and it lacks a comprehensive view.

Earlier this year, the US submitted a discussion paper on e-commerce at the WTO. So far, no specific definition of e-commerce has been formed at the WTO, as different nations have different notions.

WTO director general Roberto Azevedo has described e-commerce as “a transformative force in global trade, supporting growth, development and job creation”.

“By reducing the trade costs associated with physical distance, e-commerce allows businesses to access the global marketplace, reach a broader network of buyers and participate in international trade. Similarly, we must ensure that e-commerce works as a springboard for smaller companies to compete and reach new markets,” he said last month.

While India and other developing nations want a reaffirmation to conclude the DDA, developed countries want to mostly dilute the negotiations and seek to broaden the mandate with new issues like e-commerce, global value chain.

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