Digital trade negotiations at WTO

Some countries are pushing for anti-development, anti-public interest and pro-Big Tech rules in the WTO under the guise of “e-commerce.” These countries tried, but failed, to pressure all WTO members to agree to launch multilateral negotiations during the December 2017 Ministerial. OWINFS members and most developing countries in the WTO have been successful thus far in stopping a mandate for multilateral negotiations towards an agreement. Unfortunately, Big Tech advocates launched negotiations towards a “plurilateral” in the WTO. These negotiations do not have a mandate in the WTO, as it seems that the majority of members realize that such rules would constrain development, limit regulatory oversight including of needed anti-trust reforms, harm workers and women, and erode democracy by giving unprecedented power to Big Tech over far too many aspects of our lives.

Table of contents:

  1. Statements from civil society
  2. Key new reports
  3. Introductory articles
  4. General Analysis of problems with the proposed negotiations on digital trade
  5. Detailed analysis of problems with specific proposed provisions on digital trade
  6. Data as a Public Good, and Digital Industrialization for Development
  7. Updates and articles on the negotiations

Statements from civil society

Prof. Stiglitz on digital trade (3 min video, 12 April 2019)

Letter from 315 CSOs from 90+ countries against Digital Trade talks in the WTO: English, Spanish, French. (1 April 2019)

Statement against E-commerce Rules in the WTO: pdf docx (25 January 2019)

E-commerce negotiations being launched at the WEF are really about rules for digital colonisation (29 December 2018)

Statement from Civil Society Organizations working on eCommerce for Development, on the Africa eCommerce Week and Outcomes, 14 December 2018: English: pdf, docx. French: pdf, docx.

MSME associations reject MSMEs work program and ecommerce rules in WTO: English, Spanish. (13 December 2017)

Statement by women’s rights organisations rejecting the WTO Declaration on Women’s Economic Empowerment (12 December 2017)

Key new reports

Why the Joint Statement Initiatives Lack Legal Legitimacy in the WTO, by Law Professor Jane Kelsey, a rebuttal to a previous document by Hamid Mamdouh, “Plurilateral Negotiations and Outcomes in the WTO.” Resumen en español. (22 June 2021)

UNCTAD Research Paper: Joint Statement Initiative on E-Commerce (JSI): Economic and Fiscal Implications for the South. (February 2021)

Digital Trade Rules: A disastrous new constitution for the global economy written by and for Big Tech: English, Spanish. (2020)

How ‘digital trade’ rules would impede taxation of the digitalised economy in the Global South (Third World Network (TWN), August 2020)

Digital trade rules and Big Tech: Surrendering public good to private power (Public Services International (PSI), February 2020)

Free Trade Agreements, Digital Chapters and the Impact on Labour: A comparative Analysis of the potential practical implications (ITUC and The New Economics Foundation, 2019)

Giant tech corporations join forces with the WTO to try to launch a WTO 2.0 to cement digital colonialism through international treaties: English pdf, Spanish pdf. (26 June 2019)

Introductory articles

The future is digital, but we should keep digital chapters out of our trade deals (Duncan McCann, 1 October 2020)

Digital rules in FTAs may undermine capacity to tax digital firms (D. Ravi Kanth, 14 August 2020)

Should digitally delivered products be exempted from customs duties? (UNCTAD, 16 July 2020)

Development and E-com free flow of data rules are incompatible. (19 April 2019)

South nations take firm stand on geo-economics of data: English pdf, Spanish, French. (17 April 2019)

South needs data digitalization policies, say CSO experts: English pdf, Spanish, French. (April 15, 2019)

Twelve reasons to oppose rules on digital commerce in the WTO. English: pdf, docx. Spanish: pdf, doc. French: pdf, docx. (updated 31 March 2019)

Results of the 11th ministerial conference of the WTO: English, Spanish (April 2018)

Transnational corporations’ agenda on e-commerce: English, Spanish. (April 2018)

What development actors need to know about e-commerce. (April 2018)

Get off the big data partnerships bandwagon. (March 10, 2018)

Data is the new oil, so big tech is pushing for a digital free trade deal. (December 13, 2017)

Trading away our privacy; the WTO Ministerial in Buenos Aires. (December 12, 2017)

E-commerce and the World Trade Organization: English: pdf, docx. Spanish: pdf, docx. French: pdf, docx. (November 17, 2017)

A new digital trade agenda: are we giving away the Internet? (June 13, 2017)

Risk of a deepening of the digital divide – worrisome WTO discussions. (UNI Global Union: May 5, 2017)

General analysis of problems with the proposed negotiations on digital trade

Future of WTO in a digitalised world. Video recording of session #95 at the 2019 WTO Public Forum. (10 October 2019)

Why the dominant digital trade paradigm will not work for women in the global south: English pdf, Spanish, French. (April 2019)

E-commerce and MSMEs: what trade rules could improve the business climate in Africa? English: pdf, docx. Spanish: pdf, docx. French: pdf, docx. (March 2019)

Why E-Commerce won’t work for Africa’s development. (December 2018)

Micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) and e-commerce: pdf, docx. (December 2017)

E-commerce: the development implications of future proofing global trade rules for GAFA. (December 2017)

Preliminary analysis of aspects of some WTO ecommerce proposals. (10 December 2017)

The fourth industrial revolution will deepen the digital divide. Alliance Sud Position on the Eleventh WTO Ministerial Conference: English, French. (30 November 2017)

Detailed analysis of problems with specific proposed provisions on digital trade

Report: How ‘digital trade’ rules would impede taxation of the digitalised economy in the Global South. (Jane Kelsey et al, TWN, 13 August 2020)

The moratorium on tariffs on electronic transmissions. (Manuel Montes and Jane Kelsey, July 2020)

Protection of data generated by e-commerce market space as intellectual property. (Centre for WTO Studies, India, June 2020)

Why are computer and related services important? Video recording of session #119 at the 2019 WTO Public Forum. (11 October 2019)

Anti‐development Impacts of Tax‐Related Provisions in Proposed Rules on Digital Trade in the WTO: English, Spanish, French. (September 2019)

UNCTAD research paper: Growing Trade in Electronic Transmissions: Implications for the South. (February 2019)

Implications of WTO ecommerce proposals restricting access to algorithms. (October 2018)

Electronic authentication: some implications: English, Spanish. (partially updated in August 2018)

Some preliminary implications of WTO source code proposal. (10 December 2017)

E-signatures and trade. (November 2017)

UNCTAD report: Rising product digitalisation and losing trade competitiveness. (September 2017)

Data as a Public Good, and Digital Industrialization for Development

Digital public goods: A precondition for realising the SDGs: English, Spanish. (September 2019)

Data localization: A matter of rule of law and economic development: English, French. (September 2018)

UNCTAD Trade and Development Report 2018: Power, Platforms and The Free Trade Delusion: English, Spanish, French. (September 2018)
→ Chapter III: Economic Development in a Digital World: Prospects, Pitfalls and Policy Options: English, French.

Policies for the platform economy: English, French. (September 2018)

UNCTAD report: South-south digital cooperation for industrialization: A regional integration agenda. (April 2018)

Data frameworks for a right to development. (March 2018)

Some of the implications of ecommerce proposals for government procurement (10 December 2017)

Digital industrialisation in developing countries: English, French summary. (December 2017)

Updates and articles on the negotiations

US warns over moves to discontinue moratorium on e-commerce duties, by D. Ravi Kanth. (5 March 2021)

Proponents fail to respond to challenge over legal status of JSIs, by D. Ravi Kanth. (4 March 2021)

JSIs will erode WTO's multilateral rules-based architecture, by D. Ravi Kanth. (24 February 2021)

UNCTAD cautions against JSI e-commerce negotiations at WTO, by D. Ravi Kanth. (18 February 2021)

South faces serious economic implications from JSI digital trade rules, by D. Ravi Kanth. (4 February 2021)

JSI group on e-com to discuss open internet access, competition issues, by D. Ravi Kanth. (15 September 2020)

Renewed JSI efforts to extend e-com duties moratorium to services, by D. Ravi Kanth. (6 August 2020)

How ‘Digital Trade’ Rules Would Impede Taxation of the Digitalised Economy in the Global South, by Jane Kelsey, John Bush, Manuel Montes & Joy Ndubai (August 2020)

Moratorium on tariffs on Electronic Transmissions, by Manuel Montes & Jane Kelsey (August 2020)

Reconsider WTO e-com duties moratorium, say two scholars, by D. Ravi Kanth. (28 July 2020)

"Robust" debate over damage caused by e-com duties moratorium, by D. Ravi Kanth. (16 July 2020)

OECD suffers setback on continuation of e-com duties moratorium, by D. Ravi Kanth. (15 July 2020)

JSI group voices differing views on moratorium on e-com duties, by D. Ravi Kanth. (7 July 2020)

Battle-lines being drawn at WTO over moratorium on e-com duties, by D. Ravi Kanth. (3 July 2020)

JSI group on e-com discusses a "digital trade facilitation" agreement, by D. Ravi Kanth. (19 June 2020)

US to target countries that impose digital services taxes. (4 June 2020)

E-com proposals at WTO a recipe for corporate greed. (5 May 2020)

COVID-19: JSI group for exploring emerging e-com/digital trade issues. (4 May 2020)

E-com proposals at WTO a recipe for corporate greed, by Kanaga Raja. (5 May 2020)

COVID-19: JSI group for exploring emerging e-com/digital trade issues, by D. Ravi Kanth. (4 May 2020)

US wants website owners shielded over content in e-com pluri-accord, by D. Ravi Kanth. (24 February 2020)

Pluri-talks on e-commerce takes up controversial issues, by D. Ravi Kanth. (27 November 2019)

US offers quid pro quo on e-commerce moratorium, by D. Ravi Kanth. (27 November 2019)

Moratorium on e-com duties will negatively impact South. (23 June 2019)

“Digital trade” war underway in e-com pluri-talks at WTO. (6 May 2019)

India: Publishes draft e-commerce policy document, open for comments, by Chakravarthi Raghavan. (27 February 2019)

Beware Trojan horse of proposed E-commerce rules, by IPS/Chakravarthi Raghavan & Jomo Kwame Sundaram. (12 February 2019)

What are trade rules on e-commerce supposed to do?, by Chakravarthi Raghavan. (31 January 2019)

ICs still planning to launch e-com pluri-talks at Davos, by D. Ravi Kanth. (21 December 2018)

More questions than answers at Africa e-Com event, by Chakravarthi Raghavan. (21 December 2018)

China comes out against ambitious rules on e-commerce, by D. Ravi Kanth. (22 November 2018)

Azevedo accountable to GC on Alibaba-WEF-DG e-com initiative, by Roberto Bissio. (21 December 2017)

WTO teaming up with Alibaba, WEF to "enable" e-com may be illegal, by Robert Howse. (18 December 2017)

North and its allies in South opt for plurilaterals on E-com and MSMEs, by D. Ravi Kanth. (15 December 2017)

MC11 ending amidst endless frustration of large majority of South, by D. Ravi Kanth. (14 December 2017)

With US intransigent, MC11 may end with Chair statement, by D. Ravi Kanth. (14 December 2017)

CSOs highlight dangers of pursuing e-com agenda in trade talks, by Kanaga Raja. (12 December 2017)

MC11 e-com battlelines drawn across three camps, by Parminder Jeet Singh. (30 November 2017)

South nations throw down gauntlet on e-com at MC11, by D. Ravi Kanth. (24 November 2017)

E-Commerce at WTO ministerial - effort to hijack basic internet governance issues, by Chakravarthi Raghavan. (22 November 2017)

US cherry-picking MC11 outcomes, holds Members hostage, by D. Ravi Kanth. (21 November 2017)

The African Group position on e-commerce talks at WTO, by Kanaga Raja. (26 October 2017)

South countries shoot down proposals for e-commerce negotiations, by D. Ravi Kanth. (19 October 2017)

African Group will not negotiate e-commerce rules at WTO, by D. Ravi Kanth. (10 October 2017)

Opportunities, costs and risks in roll-out of digital economy, by Kanaga Raja. (10 October 2017)

ICs and allies in South push for new mandate on e-commerce, by D. Ravi Kanth. (28 September 2017)

Developing nations and LDCs reject new E-com work programme, by D. Ravi Kanth. (28 July 2017)

North to try to bury DDA, push e-commerce & MSME talks at MC11, by D. Ravi Kanth. (16 June 2017)

Friends of E-Commerce lay out roadmap for MC11 and beyond, by Kanaga Raja. (2 May 2017)

Resistance to accelerated talks on fisheries subsidies, e-commerce, by D. Ravi Kanth. (10 April 2017)

ICs intensify efforts on e-commerce negotiations at MC11, by D. Ravi Kanth. (14 March 2017)

WTO secretariat pushing e-commerce and investment for G20 meet, by D. Ravi Kanth. (3 March 2017)

14 developing countries meet DG, push e-commerce, by D. Ravi Kanth. (21 February 2017)

GC chair ignores core development issues, pushes e-commerce, by D. Ravi Kanth. (15 November 2016)

Africa group's deadly blow to E-com thematic or negotiating issues talks, by D. Ravi Kanth. (25 October 2016)

North's efforts to "bury" Doha, push e-commerce and GVCs at MC11, by D. Ravi Kanth. (18 October 2016)

US, EU foisting e-commerce agenda at WTO, amidst disarray in South, by D. Ravi Kanth. (17 October 2016)

Concerted move by EU, US and allies to rewrite e-com work program, by D. Ravi Kanth. (4 August 2016)

Deliver on "Cotton issue" before e-commerce talks, WTO told, by D. Ravi Kanth. (12 July 2016)