Electronic Commerce

Canada's Position in WTO Negotiations

Objectives in World Trade Organization Negotiations

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:

  • Engage other Members in ongoing WTO discussions aimed at ensuring greater legal certainty in the application of international trade rules to e-commerce.
  • Seek to develop key deliverables on e-commerce, including guiding general or high-level principles with the aim of serving the needs of developed and developing countries alike.

E-Commerce Trade Policy Issues

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 "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:

  • Which mode of services supply best describes an e-commerce transaction: cross-border supply, where the supplier enters the jurisdiction of the consumer; or consumption abroad, where the consumer enters the jurisdiction of the supplier?
  • How should international trade agreements approach the issue of domestic regulation as it relates to e-commerce? What types of measures might represent barriers to international trade? What measures might be needed to create a legal and policy environment that ensures business and public confidence?
  • Should the current moratorium on customs duties applied to electronic transmissions be extended?
  • How should WTO Members deal with intellectual property issues posed by e-commerce?
  • Do existing trade agreements (e.g. the General Agreement on Trade in Services) adequately provide for the classification and scheduling of so-called "new services" that arise in the context of electronic commerce? Examples might include application service providers (ASPs), data warehousing, and application hosting.
  • Do the means of delivery of a service alter specific commitments made under existing international trade agreements?