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Electronic Commerce and the WTO. By Rachel Thompson*
Oct 21, 2002

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  • To this day, this issue and a number of others to do with GATS (e.g. application of the GATS telecom pro-competitive principles to Internet services), GATT and TRIPS remain unresolved. Although the 2001 Doha Ministerial Conference again extended the moratorium on tariffs being applied to electronic transmissions, and authorised the continuation of the e-commerce work programme in the four Councils/Committee, the life has gone out of the issue at the WTO. A fight may lie ahead in the Doha Round on the treatment of software, on which it is possible a deal can be struck to ensure liberal market access treatment, but EU (French) monomania over keeping audio-visual services excluded from GATS commitments (and audio-visual utilises software more and more) keeps the issue in the shadows.

    The idea of developing a horizontal text or WTO Annex on pro-competitive regulation and open markets for e-commerce appears dead and buried in those shadows – even though ecommerce is not dead and buried but an increasingly central part of world trade albeit with much reduced stock valuations.

    Does it matter that nothing has been done? Only in the sense that the WTO missed an unusual, perhaps unique, opportunity to keep a new area of world trade “barrier-free” from the start. It can’t happen now – from the EU to Australia to China to Africa, governments are designing and implementing diverging national regulations for cross-border trade on the Internet and network competition. The tech sector will bounce back, and broadband and mobile Internet will be a reality within the decade; and then the disputes and negotiations over trade barriers will really start. There was a chance to do it differently, to use the WTO to prevent trade barriers, rather than put them up and take decades to slowly dismantle them – and in the one area of world trade that millions of citizens and small businesses all over the world use every day, Internet e-commerce. The opportunity – the chance -- was willfully not taken, above all due to the unmoveable “reciprocal concessions” mindset of WTO negotiators and the role played by the Secretariat in defense of the status quo. The opportunity is unlikely to arise again.


    1. See for example Joint EU-US Statement on Electronic Commerce, 5 December 1997, http://www.qlinks.net.comdocs/eu-us.htm, the first of these bilateral agreements and the model for the others.

    2. Catherine Mann. “Electronic Commerce in Developing Countries: Issues for Domestic Policy and WTO Negotiations.” Institute for International Economics, March 2000.

    3. Disclosure: between July 1997 and December 1999 I worked in the OECD Secretariat, including on e-commerce issues.

    4. The reports of the WTO bodies n e-commerce are available at http://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/ecom_e/ecom_e.htm

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    Comments [Add Comment]

    Capitalism is supposed to be a simple economic system
    posted by Tapart News Advocate on 2/23/2004 at 6:00:48 PM

    "Capitalism is supposed to be a simple economic system. It should make it easier for all mankind to be good. All business enterprises need a markup. This markup should be based on local value added economies from the raw product up through to the production stages and to the retail level. If parts of this process is missing in any given geopolitical setting than the whole is affected. There will always be someone who will do something for less. There are all sorts of manipulations where the making and selling of a product as a reasonable markup will be replaced. Consortiums can find ways to gain market shares by selling certain segments of their commerce under costs. The final water mark in gobalism is down to wage slave labor and even child labor combined with destroying safety and ecology regulations. It is obvious companies move their factories to escape these overheads. Companies also move to escape the entitlement societies and in the end, nations find if more difficult to maintain the social and economic balance that took years to evolve. Catherine Mann uses the 1990s for comparisons with more jobs being dislocated in that time than ever before. Workers were promised help if NAFTA, GATT etc cost them their jobs but few if any got any real help. Over a million lost their jobs in the computer industry alone for the past dozen years. In 1998 while a statistical prosperity was proclaimed by President Clinton over 250,000 lost their jobs in high tech. And this was during the time when government and companies poured in billions of dollars to correct the Y2k crisis. This acted as a false stimulus and all bets are off for this reason in comparing the so called statistical prosperity. Unemployment was actually at 15% or more if compared to any unemployment reporting with the past where full time jobs with benefits were the core of all jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics admitted that they could no longer use any of the data from the unemployment offices since only about 40% of all workers could qualify for unemployment insurance. The majority of workers did not make enough money or work long enough at any one jobs to qualify. Personal bankruptcies, the homeless population, the need for emergency food and the trade deficit broke records but were ignored. Against this backdrop, we have people like Catherine Mann doing her thing with statistics and numbers that just do not add up especially if compared to the more prosperous times in our recent history. It seems the big lie works better than the realities of the street and how people live out these terrible times with millions drifting into a silent depression. For more information, see Tapart News and Art that Talks with commentaries and topical art by Ray Tapajna, Chuck Harder, Paul Donovan and others. See the Cross 9/11 Tangle of Terror Artwork asking who will now untangle the terror Globalism has bred. Read America in Terror by Chuck Harder and the House of Cards economy by Paul Donovan. Help restore the American Dream. Vote out everyone that was part of the passage of NAFTA, GATT, WTO and Fast Track. Reference sites at http://yestapart.bizland.com/tapartnews http://tapsnewstory.filetap.com http://arklineart.fotopages.com"

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