The European Union started an effort for improved protection for consumers and traders who are involved in online transactions, as it published proposals last Friday launching what is likely to be long and hard WTO talks on regulating e-commerce.
The rulebook of the World Trade Organization was largely written in the 1980s and 1990s prior to the internet revolution, and major trading powers have conflicting red lines over e-commerce.
Of the 164 members of the WTO, 77 have agreed to try to bring the rules up to date.
The nine-page proposal of the European Union would aim to keep internet access open, strengthen consumer confidence in online transactions, and protect traders from attempts to restrict data flows or seize their source code and data.
The European Commission said that consumers and businesses had to rely on a patchwork of bilateral or regional rules and a global framework was required.
The United States is aiming for rapid reform of the WTO. Donald Trump, the President of the United States of America, has threatened to withdraw from it, prevented the appointment of trade judges and adopted tough tactics in trade disputes.
A source from the European Commission said that there was a very strong incentive to try to agree on new WTO rules.
The source disclosed: “We’re trying our best to save the multilateral trading system in a situation where one member, the U.S., is doing everything it can – it seems sometimes – to bring it down,”
Nearly all of the past attempts at writing the new global trade rules have failed because of a lack of consensus at the organisation, and the reformers have increasingly aimed for a critical mass of a subset of members instead.
India has refused to take part in the e-commerce discussions, while China has joined with a caveat: rules on data flows must be “subject to the precondition of security.”
The EU Commission source said that the changes would not be easy or quick. He stated: “Those that express the hope that this (e-commerce reform) could all be concluded by the next WTO ministerial meeting (in June 2020)… that is just not realistic.”