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Viewpoint: WTO and e-commerce rules

With the rapid increase of commercial exchanges on the Internet, there are increasing calls for international rules for e-commerce.

In today’s perspective, we listen to comments by Junji Nakagawa, professor at the Institute of Social Sciences, University of Tokyo, on the main points of the WTO conference at the next ministerial level. He is an expert in international economics.

Nakakawa: The World Trade Organization (WTO) launched the Doha round of trade liberalization talks in November 2001. Sixteen years later, the talks have not yet reached a conclusion. That is because reaching an agreement has become more difficult with the growing influence of emerging economies such as China, India and Brazil. In particular, it has proved difficult to liberalize the agricultural market. Especially in the face of strong opposition from India, which has many simple farmers. The Indian government supports them with substantial financial aid, and the reduction or discussion of this aid is as close as it is to taboo.

India takes this as an excuse to oppose market liberalization. India takes a hard line on the issue and says it will never compromise. As a result, the talks remained unresolved.

Negotiations on international rules governing e-commerce will begin when the Doha Round is in session. Thanks to the great efforts of the Director of the World Trade Organization, Roberto Azivido. WTO member states have reached an agreement to begin developing rules on new forms of international trade such as e-commerce during their meeting in Nairobi in 2015. At the same time, however, they agreed to continue discussing key points on the protection of farmers, taking into account the demand of emerging countries. This was a concession made to those States, placing India in particular.

I am waiting to see whether India will agree to start e-commerce negotiations. If they agree, they will most likely be asked to restart talks on the agriculture sector. If WTO members agree to this requirement, it would mean that I think the Doha Round will restart talks along with the e-commerce negotiations.

WTO Member States announced at a ministerial level in 1998 that cross-border e-commerce would not be subject to tariffs. An agreement reached quickly not to impose tariffs on remittances of services and businesses across borders. But it was intended to be a temporary measure, but it has been extended and is still in force to this day. So we do not pay customs tariffs when we buy items from Alibaba or Amazon because they are based outside of Japan. This applies not only to us but to all people around the world. Certainly how to protect consumers and personal data remains an important issue. China also imposes a law on cross-border e-commerce unless there are cloud computing servers or facilities installed inside the country. Both Japan and the United States are demanding that China repeal the law. If negotiations begin, this issue will be difficult.

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