- Australia, Japan, and Singapore, co-convenors of the plurilateral Joint Statement Initiative (JSI) on e-commerce are expecting a convergence on more issues on e-commerce by the end of 2022
Global rules on digital trade
- At the Second Ministerial Conference (1998) of WTO, members agreed on core rules for e-commerce regulation.
- A temporary moratorium was imposed on customs duties relating to the electronic transmission of goods and services.
- India and South Africa continuously opposed it as the moratorium imposes significant costs on developing countries.
- The members also agreed to set up a work programme on e-commerce and the lack of progress in the two decades resulted in the creation of JSI in December 2017 to initiate exploratory work on the trade-related aspects of e-commerce.
- Several countries, including developing countries, and Countries like China and Indonesia signed up in 2019.
Issues surrounding JSI- developed vs developing countries
International rules relating to the free flow of data across borders.
- Several developing countries including India have imposed data localisation mandates that compel corporations to store and process data within territorial borders.
- For instance, Several payment card companies, including Mastercard and American Express, were prohibited from issuing new cards for failure to comply with a 2018 financial data localisation directive from the Reserve Bank of India.
- Developed world looking to access new digital markets finds these restrictions impose unnecessary compliance costs, thus hampering innovation and amounting to unfair protectionism.
Domestic laws mandate the disclosure of source codes.
- Developed countries believe that this hampers innovation, whereas developing countries believe it is essential for algorithmic transparency and fairness.
- Data sovereignty can be championed as a means of resisting ‘data colonialism’.
- Policy Making for India’s digital economy should focus on surveillance reform, personal data protection, algorithmic governance, and non-personal data regulation and it should work for individuals, communities, and aspiring local businesses.
- India should avoid signing trading obligations hastily
- Because it could reduce the space available to frame appropriate policy.
- India should learn lessons from the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement (DEPA) between Singapore, Chile, and New Zealand, and can push for a framework where countries can pick and choose modules with which they wish to comply.
- Negotiating without surrendering domestic policy-making to WTO holds the key to India’s digital future.
- Despite its failings, the WTO plays a critical role in global governance and is vital to India’s strategic interests.