E-commerce Negotiators Engage in First Review of Chairís Text

 

[ABS News Service/08.02.2024]

At the first round of e-commerce negotiations in 2024, held from 29 January to 2 February, the co-convenors of the talks ó Australia, Japan and Singapore ó welcomed participating membersí willingness to work in the coming months on the basis of the text circulated by the co-convenors in mid-January. The text reflects the co-convenorsí judgement on where consensus is most likely to be achieved for a future e-commerce agreement.

Ambassador James Baxter of Australia who is chairing the plenary meetings this year said: "The Chair's text is an important milestone for this negotiation. Having your support to work on the basis of this text, notwithstanding the different sensitivities that a number of you had on specific elements, is something that's very welcome."

Ambassador Baxter added: "Overall, our progress this week reinforces our judgment as co- conveners that it will be possible to conclude an agreement in the next few months."

In his opening remarks, Ambassador Hung Seng Tan of Singapore reminded participants that the initiative's top priority this year is to intensify efforts to resolve outstanding substantive issues as quickly as possible and to conclude the negotiations in a timely manner. Ambassador Tan encouraged members to engage with a solution-oriented mindset.

Ambassador Tan said: "We cannot just state what we cannot accept, but rather we must offer alternative proposals or formulations that can convince the other side." He also noted that members should accept that trade-offs are inevitable. He added: "We must move beyond our narrow national interest and situate the initiative on e-commerce in the wider canvas of the WTO systemic interest."

In his closing remarks, Ambassador Atsuyuki Oike of Japan acknowledged the existing placeholders in the Chair's text and noted that ongoing group work aims to add some elements in the next version of the Chair's text, including the development issues. He said: "The elements under the category of a placeholder include important issues, particularly the ones pertaining to development. This would significantly affect the value of the final outcome. We are of the view that we need to accelerate the negotiations on those topics so that we can incorporate those articles in the next version of the Chair's text."

Ambassador Oike added: "As negotiation approaches its conclusion, we need a higher level of engagement. For this reason, we encourage members to start to prepare for escalating the substance on this negotiation to the senior or political level. We are confident that the Chair's text will definitely serve this purpose."

Small group negotiations continued on topics such as e-payments and cryptography. The co-convenors conducted consultations with members on the development proposal.

As they started to review the Chair's text, members intensified discussions on legal and horizontal issues. They focussed on topics such as final provisions of the agreement, the horizontal provisions included in the Chair's, text, exceptions and scope carve outs.

Members were able to report "healthy" convergence on a number of horizontal issues, such as on the preamble text, the definitions, overarching scope provision, relation to other agreements, the general financial and security exceptions, dispute settlement provisions and the provisions on the proposed e-commerce committee. They also re-visited the previously "parked" issues, customs duties and telecommunications services.

The next meeting will take place on 11-14 March.