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WTO Public Forum 2018: FISME cautions against haste in rule making at WTO on e-commerce

Updated: Oct 11, 2018 09:39:43am

WTO Public Forum 2018: FISME cautions against haste in rule making at WTO on e-commerce

Geneva, Oct 11 (KNN) Acknowledging that more and more trade will be happening through digital platforms, Roberto Azevedo, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) director-general left an open question during the WTO Public Forum whether the current system of rules is enough to manage this change.

He was addressing the 2018 Public Forum organized by WTO in Geneva, Switzerland last week.

WTO organizes the Public Forum every year to involve stakeholders like parliamentarians, leading global businesspeople, students, academics and non-governmental organizations to come together and debate on a wide range of WTO issues. The experts also discuss major trade and development topics of the day.

Under the main theme of “Trade 2030”, the Public Forum's sub-theme this year was sustainable trade, technology-enabled trade, and a more inclusive trading system. Discussion over small and medium enterprises (SMEs), e-commerce and data were also held in the forum.

“More and more trade will be happening through digital platforms,” Azevedo said. “New ways of delivering products will come on stream. New kinds of services will be created. So, we have to ask – is the global trading system that we have today equipped for that new environment?”

“I believe that the fundamental principles still apply, as enshrined in the WTO agreements: the importance of clear rules, openness, cooperation and non-discrimination,” he said.

Whether the current system of rules is enough to manage this change is still an open question, Azevêdo added.

Azevedo stressed on the importance of modernizing and adapting the rules of global trade in order to manage the major social and economic challenges ahead of technological change.

“We can’t put progress on hold until we are ready. We have to start talking now. We have to get involved,” Azevedo said.

More than 2,500 participants have registered to attend this year’s forum, the theme of which is “Trade 2030.”

Representing MSMEs  at the Forum Anil Bhardwaj, Secretary General of Federation of Indian Micro and Small & Medium Enterprises (FISME) sounded a word of caution, however.  

“There is no dispute on importance of e-commerce and the need to support and facilitate MSMEs on its adoption. However, agreeing to have a rule making process started at WTO on e-commerce is a different ball game.  Rules at WTO means bindings on sovereign governments on their ability to make laws to facilitate and manage different aspects of emerging digital technologies in the national interests.”, Bhardwaj highlighted.     

He raised these concerns vociferously at WTO Public Forum and garnered support from stakeholders cutting across developing and developed countries.

Erik Solheim, the executive director of UN Environment Programme, noted the role trade in supporting sustainable development and in contributing to the sharp reduction in global poverty and promoting the expanded use of renewable energies and technologies.

“Last year, we had more electricity coming onto the global grid from solar alone,” noted Solheim. “Could that happen without trade?  No. It may have started in California and Germany, but the enormous markets of China and India took it to such a scale that solar can now compete on price with coal everywhere in the world.”

“That’s a change that would have been impossible without trade.”

Jack Ma, the executive chairman and co-founder of the Alibaba Group, said “Today we see Made in China or Made in Switzerland. 2030 will be Made in Internet,” he declared. 

“All these things will fundamentally change the way we do trade, but for sure most businesses will benefit. We will create a lot more jobs than we expected.” (KNN Bureau)


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