E-commerce and the WTO

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.com PLC.

E-commerce and the WTO (4 December 2001)


  • Electronic commerce is by nature a global phenomenon and thus also an issue for negotiation in the framework of the WTO, insofar as there is a need for regulation. However, despite its great potential, e-commerce is only a minor point on the agenda of the new trade round which was just launched in Doha, Qatar.
  • While the principles of the WTO can certainly be applied to internet trading, it is difficult to classify e-commerce under the existing regulations. The decision as to whether it should be classified under the rules for trade in goods or trade in services will be crucial for the further course of liberalisation.
  • In 1998, the WTO launched a working programme on e-commerce which is aimed at identifying the need for negotiation and regulation within the WTO and the effects of e-commerce on emerging markets and developing countries. The Doha ministerial confirmed the working programme and agreed on its prolongation.
  • The moratorium on the imposition of customs duties on international e-commerce, informally agreed in 1998, is still being observed by all WTO member countries and was prolonged in Doha until the next ministerial. The tariff revenues foregone are negligible.
  • The USA and the EU take different positions on some crucial issues regarding the treatment of e-commerce in trade policy, e.g. the classification of e-commerce in the WTO system, security and protection of privacy.
  • The existing WTO work programme on e-commerce should build on the potential offered by the present situation to spur liberalisation.


For in-depth analysis of e-commerce and the WTO, see the Deutsche Bank eResearch