WTO Joint Initiative on E-Commerce: Statement by the United Kingdom


Thank you for arranging this meeting today. Greetings to you, to those who are online in Geneva and to those who come from all over the world.

As we approach the end of what has been – by all accounts – a tumultuous year, the UK first wishes to thank the co-hosts for their continued leadership in promoting this important initiative.

Yesterday the UK submitted its own proposals for written text setting out our preferred position on a number of key issues being discussed in this initiative. Our text proposals cover: customs duties on electronic transmissions, protection of personal information, cross-border transfer of information, localization of IT (and financial IT) services, source code, cryptography, open access internet, cybersecurity, electronic contracts and paperless commerce.

The UK participated actively in the small group discussions and strongly supports the co-conveners’ small group principles that were set out in the October 23 plenary session. To encourage members to capitalize on the existing momentum within a number of smaller groups, the UK has chosen not to propose new text on commitments relating to electronic authentication and signatures, public data open, online consumer protection or unsolicited commercial electronic messages.

Negotiations on these provisions are already at an advanced stage and the UK can support a number of existing simplified text proposals. We will continue to participate in these small group discussions in support of our preferred outcomes. The United Kingdom has not tabled any text regarding telecommunications services either, but we remain in favor of this being included in the outcome of these discussions and will seek to discuss this matter with other members at the future.

We welcome the efforts of the co-organizers to settle the content of the main articles of this agreement so that we can work on a consolidated text by the end of the year. As we noted earlier, the UK is committed to supporting the participation of developing and least developed countries in these negotiations and we welcome the discussion on this issue today.

As this initiative continues to mature, other topics will likely form the basis of small group discussions. I encourage co-organizers to consider whether now is the time to create a data small group.

The free flow of data is an essential component of cross-border trade, and this is even more important in the context of COVID-19. The pandemic has increased the reliance on electronic communications and other virtual interactions. This has led to a sharp increase in international data flows and this trend is unlikely to fully reverse after COVID-19.

The flow of information is at the heart of this initiative, but for many members it is also one of the most sensitive aspects of trading. There are strong opinions on all sides. And, perhaps for this reason, discussions on cross-border data flows, data privacy and data localization have so far been sporadic and yielded little tangible progress.

The UK hopes to address this dissonance and work with members to agree data rules that benefit everyone. Progress will need to be made in these areas if we are to achieve our common goal of agreeing rules that unlock the tremendous economic potential that a truly global digital economy promises.

We must not be afraid to challenge each other’s views constructively, revisit our own assumptions and work together in good faith to find dynamic and inclusive solutions that work for both developed and developing countries. . Together, we can – and must – find a way through.

I have already said that this initiative goes beyond e-commerce. It depends on the credibility of the WTO itself and its ability to deliver relevant global trade rules fit for the 21st century.

The UK is committed to working actively with the co-hosts and all members to ensure that this Initiative comes to a successful and timely conclusion.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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