Ecommerce is likely to figure prominently in Obama administration's last big engagement with India later this week. Today, the US Trade Representative Michael Froman will meet Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman under the India-US Trade Policy Forum, where the US is likely to urge India to consider discussing ecommerce at the World Trade Organization, people aware of the matter told.
India has vehemently opposed the inclusion of new issues such as ecommerce in the multilateral organisation till now. The discussions will be focused on bilateral trade and our relations in the WTO. The new traction in WTO is coming from e-commerce and there is energy on this front especially because India is not party to the Information Technology Agreement (ITA 2), said one of the persons, who did not want to be identified.
Ecommerce is the first among the new issues that the developed countries have been pushing to be included in the WTO's agenda for the next ministerial meeting in Buenos Aires in Argentina next year.
At the last ministerial in Nairobi, developed countries were successful in clinching the deal away from India by allowing new issues to be taken up in the WTO's mandate. Developed countries want debate on new issues and the progress has to be reported to the WTO in January, the person said. WTO director general Roberto Azevedo recently called ecommerce a "transformative force in global trade, supporting growth, development and job creation".
The Nairobi Ministerial Declaration had acknowledged that members have different views on how to address the future of the Doha Round negotiations. Any decision to launch negotiations multilaterally on new issues would need to be agreed by all members, it said. Although India has not favoured e-commerce discussions till now, it has begun studying papers submitted to the WTO on the issue to understand the various views. The US has floated a non-paper on ecommerce prohibiting digital customs duties, enabling cross-border data flows, promoting a free and open internet, and preventing localisation barriers.
On the bilateral front, the two countries are likely to discuss the nature of trading arrangement, especially non-tariff barriers and protectionist measures such as rise in H1B and L1visa fees.