NGOs oppose Declaration on E-Commerce

During the official WTO Conference, the major negotiating issue became the US-led initiative to have duty-free treatment for items transmitted via electronic commerce. In the end, the Ministers issued a Declaration on the subject, in which they agreed to establish a work programme to examine all trade-related issues on electronic commerce, and also to continue the current practice of not imposing customs duties on electronic transmissions. This Declaration will be reviewed again at the next Ministerial Conference in 1999.

Several NGOs were against the move to give such special treatment to electronic commerce and issued a joint statement on the subject.

We reproduce below the WTO Ministers' Declaration and the NGO statement.


1. We are strongly opposed to the attempt by some countries to introduce a new Declaration on global Electronic Commerce for Ministers to sign.

2. This issue had already been negotiated at the General Council of WTO and was not specifically mentioned in the draft Ministerial Declaration. Thus this move is an attempt to 'jump over' the conclusions of the General Council to the Ministers in a last-minute attempt to sneak this decision through.

3. Electronic Commerce trade is a complex issue. Asking for tax-free status for things transmitted through electronic means has many serious implications. The benefits will almost exclusively accrue to corporations of developed countries whose aim is increased market access through this move. Governments will lose the option for a revenue-earning source.

4. We are also very concerned that issues of consumer protection and personal privacy are not addressed in the proposed Declaration.

5. It is also dangerous to have a precedent that a method of communication or transportation becomes a ground of being tax-free. Normally, negotiations for tariff reduction are on a product or service basis.

6. The process by which this Declaration is being rushed through is most untransparent, undemocratic and non-participatory. It makes a gross mockery of statements by President Clinton and Renato Ruggiero to increase transparency and participation in the WTO, especially for civil society.

7. We, therefore, call for the rejection of this attempt for a Declaration on Electronic Commerce.


Declaration on Global Electronic Commerce adopted by the WTO Conference on 20 May 1998


Recognising that global electronic commerce is growing and creating new opportunities for trade,

Declare that:

The General Council shall, by its next meeting in special session, establish a comprehensive work programme to examine all trade-related issues relating to global electronic commerce, including those issues identified by Members. The work programme will involve the relevant World Trade Organisation (WTO) bodies, take into account the economic, financial, and development needs of developing countries, and recognise that work is also being undertaken in other international fora. The General Council should produce a report on the progress of the work programme and any recommendations for action to be submitted at our third session. Without prejudice to the outcome of the work programme or the rights and obligations of Members under the WTO Agreements, we also declare that Members will continue their current practice of not imposing customs duties on electronic transmissions. When reporting to our third session, the General Council will review this declaration, the extension of which will be decided by consensus, taking into account the progress of the work programme.