India asks WTO members to discuss e-comm issues; submits two papers

New Delhi, 10 Feb (PTI): India has submitted two papers in the World Trade Organization related to consumer protection and digital infrastructure part of the e-commerce sector to initiate discussion on the subject before deliberating a final agreement, government officials said on Friday.

The country wants member countries of Geneva-based WTO to discuss all these issues ‘threadbare’ before initiating negotiations on binding commitments or rules on the e-commerce sector.

Joint Secretary in the commerce ministry Darpan Jain said the e-commerce sector is rapidly growing across the globe and as it has implications on developing and poor nations, it should be discussed in a multilateral setting in WTO and not among a group of countries.

At present, a group of 87 countries, mostly developed, are negotiating to frame a pact on e-commerce rules.

These two papers, he said “will form a basis for discussion. We have not proposed any rules or any binding obligations”.

“We are saying that plurilateral discussions have not discussed these issues in detail. So all members first need to discuss these issues. First let us have a threadbare discussion,” Jain told reporters here.

A paper on consumer protection by India was submitted in December last year, while the paper on digital public infrastructure was submitted on Friday in WTO.

In the last ministerial conference, the highest decision-making body of WTO in Geneva, members had agreed to reinvigorate work under the ‘Work Programme on E-commerce’ based on existing mandate and in line with its development dimension.

Accordingly, it was decided to prepare papers for submissions on subjects of interest to developing and least developed countries to guide the discussions.

“What we are saying is that before looking at (binding) rules, you (WTO members) need to first debate and discuss what are the pros and cons of different elements of e-commerce, how it can be advantageous to developing countries,” Jain said.

Additional Secretary in the ministry Peeyush Kumar said that the current submissions are intended to bring focus on multilateral discussions on e- commerce.

The paper of digital public infrastructure (DPI), he said, will be discussed in a meeting of the general council of WTO on February 21.

In the consumer protection paper, India has listed out several new challenges and issues for consumers, relating to misleading advertising, online payment security, unfair terms, data protection, and dispute resolution.

It has emphasized on the need to jointly address these issues by countries owing to rapid growth of cross border e-commerce, besides pointing to the wide gap in the level and standards of consumer protection across the world.

In the DPI paper, India has outlined key challenges which limit the adoption of e-commerce and that includes domination by few companies and limited access to digital solutions due to copyright regimes and proprietary systems.

The paper has urged members to exchange views on issues like constraints faced by developing countries in adoption and use of such infrastructure and ways to leverage DPI in e-commerce and services delivery.

“These submissions would help provide an alternative paradigm to e-commerce discussions at the WTO. It would serve to raise issues of interest to developing countries and LDCs,” Kumar added.

WTO is a 164-member multilateral body that formulates rules for global exports and imports and adjudicates disputes between two or more than two countries on trade-related issues.