A key global business lobby group has petitioned the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to begin talks to open up cross-border digital trade for small and medium companies and allow them to sell their products across borders through ecommerce.
The International Chamber of Commerce has proposed the WTO "to give active consideration" to launch talks on a holistic package of trade disciplines, rules and assistance to boost MSME ecommerce, something that India has been opposing vehemently.
The lobby group has said the time may be right to consider whether WTO disciplines should be upgraded in support of digital trade. Even the G-20 has linked development with ecommerce and called for full participation of SMEs in developing countries and less developed economies to benefit from online trade.
The chamber has further recommended that any new WTO package should also encompass capacity building resources for developing economies, including targeted assistance to ensure that MSMEs can get online and expand their business through ecommerce.
TIMING OF REPORT RELEASE
It is not content but the timing of the report that has raised eyebrows. Though the report was finalised in September, it has been made public eight months later.
It is being seen as preparing the ground for including ecommerce disciplines in the upcoming ministerial of the WTO agenda in December. “In the past, studies and reports have been made public by the WTO on controversial issues. In 2004, prior to abolishing textile quotas, a report was made public and later misused by many countries to argue against abolishing those quotas.
Perhaps this time, it is a similar case about an issue which is politically sensitive but advocates a particular line favouring developed countries,” said Abhijit Das, head of the Centre for WTO Studies at Indian Institute of Foreign Trade in Delhi.
WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo has been trying to push for ecommerce-related disciplines to be included in the Argentina ministerial later this year. He has maintained that ecommerce can play a pivotal role in raising the living standards of developing countries.
India has been resisting internationals pressure to open up the sector. It does not allow foreign investment in business to consumer ecommerce retail.
“Ecommerce is a US agenda and it is being linked with inclusion just like trade facilitation in goods was being linked with development before the Bali ministerial,” said another Delhi-based trade expert.