Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Feb18/04)
2 February 2018
Third World Network
E-com WTO rules via pluri will undermine MTS credibility
Published in SUNS #8610 dated 30 January 2018
Davos, 29 Jan (D. Ravi Kanth) - Attempts to bring "digital two
dozen rules" into the World Trade Organization by the sponsors
of the plurilateral initiative on electronic commerce will permanently
undermine the credibility of the multilateral trading system based
on consensus, South Africa's trade minister Rob Davies told SUNS on
The digital two dozen rules refer to the commitments negotiated in
the failed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement by the United
States and 11 other countries in 2016.
"If you cannot get something in the multilateral system it doesn't
mean you form a group and then write the rules and expect those rules
to be adopted at the WTO," said Davies, in an interview after
attending the informal trade ministerial summit hosted by Switzerland
on the margins of the World Economic Forum's annual meeting.
Several countries - the United States, the European Union, Canada,
Norway, New Zealand, Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, Turkey, Russia,
Japan, Korea, and Nigeria among others - called for commencing plurilateral
negotiations on e-commerce on Friday.
The EU's trade commissioner Ms Cecilia Malmstrom said members need
to try the plurilateral approach, while the US Trade Representative
Ambassador Robert Lighthizer said the plurilateral route is the best
option for framing rules for e-commerce which can be later included
into the WTO's rule book.
Ms Malmstrom said business as usual cannot continue unless members
embark on the plurilateral initiative.
Asked to comment on the large support for the plurilateral initiative
on e-commerce, Davies said the sponsors who had failed to secure multilateral
consensus are now resorting to what he called "reductio ad absurdum"
- which is a technique of reducing an argument or hypothesis to absurdity.
"More than 100 of us of the Group of 90 countries supported changes
in special and differential treatment flexibilities throughout the
WTO rule book," but "it does not manage to get through the
process and does not get attention in Buenos Aires," he said.
"Now if we go out and respond to this development in Buenos Aires
by forming a plurilateral group, we could not expect that what we
wrote in that plurilateral group would become rules in the WTO,"
"Will the E-commerce sponsors accept such outcomes for improvements
in special and differential treatment flexibilities and reduction
commitments for farm subsidies if more than 100 countries form a plurilateral
group," he asked.
"It is the same for e-commerce and the e-commerce group must
not imagine and write the rules which are going to be the rules for
rest of us," he said.
More important, such an initiative is a gross violation of a "whole
lot of procedures we agreed to work on e-commerce" as per the
1998 work program, Davies said.
"So these [developments] on a number of plurilateral initiatives,"
do not augur well for the organization which is now facing an existential
threat, particularly the impasse at the Appellate Body (AB).
"The organization is at an impasse, if the AB issue is not resolved
immediately; and a number of people, including us, spoke on the crisis
in the AB at the meeting," he maintained.
He said there is a clash of paradigms on which some members are pushing
ahead with their specific re-industrialization policies.
"The same clash of paradigms is behind the AB issue" as
the US continues to maintain that the AB is against them and that
they want "policy space for the US to pursue their America First
trade policies," he said.
"We also need to industrialize and we are poorer," he said,
maintaining that "we need the tool box they used when they industrialized,
and we are not going to be subjected to rules like them."
Countries in Africa, including us, are "not satisfied that we
have an adequate digital industrial policy we can pursue," Davies
Surely, nobody can agree to rules before that member understands what
it needs, he said.