GENEVA – The governing council of the World Trade Organization agreed Tuesday to hold a special session as early as June to discuss internationally acceptable rules on electronic commerce, trade sources said.
The special session, to be attended by envoys of WTO member countries as well as experts in electronic commerce, is expected to submit a report to the WTO General Council in July.
The confusion over whether to classify e-commerce as trade in goods or in services has made it difficult to take up the issue within the existing structure of the WTO General Council, which is divided into special fields.
Japan advocates using a “horizontal approach” to the issue in order to bypass the goods vs. services controversy, and the General Council decision Tuesday can be seen as one step in that direction.
The decision also means that e-commerce could be taken up at a new round of multilateral trade talks under the WTO.
According to trade sources, while Singapore and Australia joined Japan’s efforts to push for talks on e-commerce, Pakistan and some other developing countries initially opposed the “horizontal approach,” holding up progress in discussions for several months.
The WTO structure consists of separate councils governing trade in goods, trade in services and trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights.
The WTO General Council decided to resolve the jurisdictional difference by holding a special WTO session because discussions on which council should draw up e-commerce rules ended inconclusively.
Pressure on the WTO to draw up internationally accepted e-commerce rules has mounted with the rapid expansion of e-commerce in developed countries.
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