In 1998, the World Trade Organization (WTO) General Council launched a Work Program on Electronic Commerce, under which four subsidiary bodies were established: the Council for Trade in Services; the Council for Trade in Goods; the Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS); and the Committee for Trade and Development. These were directed to explore a variety of trade-related aspects of e-commerce and to report back to the General Council. They have since looked at a number of important matters, but many of these are horizontal or cross-cutting issues beyond the scope of a single subsidiary body. For this reason e-commerce is also being discussed in a series of dedicated discussions on the topic, under the auspices of the General Council.
A key objective of the WTO Work Program is greater clarity in applying international trade rules to e-commerce. The ongoing dialogue focuses on measures that can be taken to facilitate the growth of e-commerce, reduce impediments to trade and realize the potential benefits of electronic commerce for all WTO Members.
E-commerce will be able to expand with the adoption of improved market access commitments for relevant goods and services sectors—something that Canada is actively pursuing.
Overall, Canada’s objectives with respect to e-commerce trade policy are to:
One of the more contentious issues within WTO discussions on e-commerce is the question of whether electronically delivered products, such as software, music and books, represent goods or services according to international trade rules. Canada has not yet taken a position on the classification of electronic deliverables with a physical equivalent, but it has been examining the issue. In May 2002, under the auspices of the second dedicated discussion on e-commerce, Canada presented a "ARCHIVED-non-paper" on the classification of software delivered electronically; this sought to explore key issues and encourage discussion.
Members have also been looking at a number of e-commerce trade policy questions, including the following:
For more information on Canada and the WTO.