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DAVOS, Switzerland: January 25, 2019. The European Union and 47 other members of the World Trade Organisation have agreed to begin discussions in March this year to establish global rules on e-commerce.

At the moment there are no specific multilateral rules in the WTO regulating this type of trade so businesses and consumers have to rely on a patchwork of rules agreed by some countries in their bilateral or regional trade agreements.

WTO meeting DavosIf the WTO members reach agreement, the new rules would improve consumers' trust in the on-line environment and combat spam; tackle barriers that prevent cross-border sales; guarantee validity of e-contracts and e-signatures; permanently ban Customs duties on electronic transmissions; and address forced data localisation requirements including forced disclosure of source code.

The meeting in Davos included trade ministers from Albania, Argentina, Australia, Kingdom of Bahrain, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, European Union, Georgia, Honduras, Hong Kong, China; Iceland, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, Republic of Korea, Kuwait, Lao PDR, Liechtenstein, Malaysia, Mexico, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Myanmar, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Qatar, Russian Federation, Singapore, Switzerland, Taipei, Thailand, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Turkey, Ukraine, the UAE, United States and Uruguay.

With Brexit Britain due to leave the EU in March, apparently it wasn’t on the list.

“It is encouraging to see so many partners joining this important trade initiative,” declared EU Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström. “Electronic commerce is a reality in most corners of the world, so we owe it to our citizens and companies to provide a predictable, effective and safe online environment for trade. We look forward to working with all interested WTO members, flexibly and pragmatically, to create a truly comprehensive and ambitious set of rules."

UPS CEO David Abney commented: “UPS urges all trade ministers joining in the launch of negotiations of an e-commerce framework to work together in a timely fashion in negotiating a high standard rules-based trading system that will provide for efficient customs clearance, enable fluid digital transactions, establish transparency and trust and facilitate cross-border movement of information.”

Centre of picture: World Trade Organisation director general Roberto Azevêdo meeting trade ministers in Davos for discussions that included the future of e-commerce.

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