Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Nov16/13)
15 November 2016
Third World Network
GC chair ignores core development issues, pushes e-commerce
Published in SUNS #8354 dated 14 November 2016
Geneva, 11 Nov (D. Ravi Kanth) -- Despite remaining silent on the
core developmental outcomes as demanded by least-developed and developing
countries in the Doha work program, the WTO General Council chair
Ambassador Harald Neple of Norway has mounted an extraordinary effort
He has been holding sustained consultations with African and other
countries in an attempt to find a way forward before the final 2016
GC meeting next month, several trade envoys told the SUNS.
Over the past ten days, the GC chair along with the Friend - i. e.
Ambassador Alfredo Suescum of Panama, appointed by Neple to oversee
the dedicated sessions on e-commerce - have held one-on-one meetings
with key trade envoys from Africa and Asia ostensibly to elicit their
opinions on how to move forward on e-commerce despite their opposition,
said a trade envoy who asked not to be quoted.
The GC chair is expected to prepare a report based on his consultations
for the consideration of members before they proceed on the winter
holiday. Consequently, the scheduled meetings on e-commerce have been
Significantly, the GC chair has not made a similar effort, as he is
currently making on e-commerce, for resolving/ convincing major industrialized
countries to give up their opposition on core developmental issues
such as the permanent solution for public stockholding work programs,
the special safeguard mechanism for developing countries to curb unforeseen
surges in imports of agricultural products, elimination of trade-distorting
cotton subsidies, harmonization of non-preferential rules of origin
and also harmonization of preferential rules of origin for the least-developed
countries, said an African trade envoy.
"Clearly, the double-standards, when it comes to issues concerning
the developing and poorest countries, are in full display - as demands
raised by major developed countries in e-commerce and other areas
are accorded priority," said a South American trade envoy, who
asked not to quoted.
During the dedicated session on e-commerce on 18 October, eventually
suspended in the face of a volley of protests from members from the
African Group, India, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Cuba among others, it
became clear that there is no consensus for moving forward on e-commerce.
At the dedicated session, Morocco, which is the coordinator for the
African Group, had said categorically that its members want to "prioritize
work on the outstanding Doha issues, such as Agriculture Trade Distorting
Domestic Support, SSM [Special Safeguard Mechanism], Public Stockholding
for Food Security, Cotton, LDC (least- developed countries) priorities,
TRIPS, and last but not least Development and S&DT" before
addressing issues on e-commerce.
Subsequently, at the informal trade ministerial meeting in Oslo, Norway,
on 21-22 October, several trade ministers from developing countries,
including South Africa and India, expressed strong protests on engaging
on multilateral rule-making on e-commerce.
South Africa's trade minister Rob Davies said his country is not prepared
to negotiate multilateral rules for e-commerce while India said new
issues, including e-commerce, cannot run ahead of the Doha issues,
according to participants familiar with the Oslo meeting.
In the report submitted to WTO members on the Oslo ministerial meeting
(Job/GC/108), Norway said "among so-called new issues, many ministers
mentioned e-commerce as a potential candidate for harvesting results
in one form or another in Buenos Aires [where the WTO's eleventh ministerial
meeting will be held next year], while others seemed more skeptical."
In fact, except one or two developing countries, most of the ministers
from developing countries had opposed e-commerce at the Oslo meeting,
said a participant who had taken part in the proceedings.
Nonetheless, Norway maintained in its informal report that "thus
further focused, but open-minded, discussions and scoping on e-commerce
are needed before any conclusions can be drawn."
Several trade envoys said that major industrialized countries are
exerting pressure on Morocco which is the coordinator for the African
Group, Rwanda which is the coordinator for the ACP Group, and Benin
which is the coordinator for the least-developed countries to change
their position, said an African trade envoy, who asked not to be quoted.
A former US trade official Alicia Greenidge, who is now advising the
LDC group, wants the poorest countries to accept the e-commerce work
program or else major players will proceed to address e-commerce in
a Plurilateral agreement in the WTO by the eleventh ministerial meeting,
a LDC source told SUNS.
In what seems to be a misguided interpretation of paragraph 34 of
the Nairobi Ministerial Decision, the Group has been advised to submit
a formal proposal whereby they inadvertently acquiesce to proceeding
outside the mandate of the Work Programme on E-commerce on the assurance
that they will not take on commitments or binding obligations in this
The Group is being advised in a Confidential Technical Note that the
proponents want to know what the "substantive elements on development
and capacity building to include in their pitches for an outcome at
MC11" will be and for LDCs to jump on board early before the
proponents concede to a Plurilateral initiative.
This comes at a time when the proponents of e-commerce, the Chair
of the General Council Ambassador Neple of Norway and Friend of the
General Council Chair Ambassador Suescum of Panama, together with
the WTO Secretariat, desperately try to find a way forward to move
the e-commerce "discussions" in the WTO.
The African Group, India, Bolivia and Cuba have maintained that any
discussion on e-commerce must follow the prescripts of the Work Programme
on Electronic Commerce, a decision adopted by the General Council
in 1998 and reaffirmed in subsequent Ministerial Decisions and Declarations.
The Work Programme is specific and sets out the broad framework for
discussions in the relevant bodies as set out in paragraphs 2 to 5.
However with eight submissions now on the table, all proponents with
the exception of China refuse to address their submissions in the
relevant bodies mandated to deal with them, thereby delaying any chance
of meaningful engagement this year.
The pressure now being placed on the poorest and most vulnerable economies
of the LDC Group to agree to an outcome on e-commerce is at a tipping
point as their attempts to seek outcomes in areas that are most pressing
to their needs to help them integrate into the global economy are
In all likelihood, the GC chair and Ambassador Suescum could present
a report on their confessionals on e-commerce at the GC meeting next
month based on what the LDCs have suggested, said an industrialized
country trade envoy.
Meanwhile, China has cautioned against pushing members to opposing
ends in the e-commerce related work at the World Trade Organization,
saying efforts to force countries to adopt a work program despite
their opposition can bring harm to the multilateral trading system.
In what appears to be counter to an ambitious e-commerce work program
that would include eliminating localization requirements and permitting
cloud computing without restrictions, China has maintained that work
on e-commerce must be based on the existing mandate of 1998, "focusing
on areas of common interest to members with the aim of realizing pragmatic
progress at the 11th ministerial conference" in Buenos Aires
China said the e-commerce work program must focus "on promotion
and facilitation of cross-border trade in goods enabled by internet,
together with services directly supporting such trade in goods, such
as payment and logistics services."
"The discussions are to clarify and improve the application of
existing multilateral trading rules, with a view to enabling developing
members, SVEs and LDCs in particular, and their SMEs and disadvantaged
groups to better participate in and benefit from international trade
and global value chains and to achieve leap-forward development,"
China has argued.
Significantly, it wants to extend the existing moratorium on imposition
of customs duties on electronic commerce but "the discussions
at this stage should not lead to new market access commitments including
Several industrialized and some developing countries, including the
United States, have called for permanent prohibition on imposing customs
duties instead of the current practice of extending the moratorium
after every two years.
China has underscored the need for creating "a sound trade policy
environment facilitating cross-border e-commerce" involving business-to-consumer
(B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) transactions" and applying
"simplified measures for import, export and transit of goods
traded under B2C mode."
Beijing also wants members to focus on "paperless trade, and
facilitate access to, use of, and data exchange with the single window
of a Member's authorities for international trade by cross-border
E-commerce transaction platforms and traders, and also services providers
of trade facilitation, payment, logistics, and courier services."
It has also emphasized addressing other issues such as "transparency
on policy framework of cross-border e-commerce," improving "infrastructure
and technical conditions for cross-border e-commerce", and exchanging
information on issues relevant to e-commerce such as consumer protection,
privacy protection, and intellectual property rights.
China has suggested that the WTO's General Council must provide political
guidance by involving all the relevant bodies.
In short, the powerful members, including the GC chair from Norway,
along with the WTO director-general Roberto Azevedo are moving heaven
and earth to force the African and other developing countries to give
up their opposition on e-commerce, said a South American trade envoy.