WTO JSI on Electronic Commerce

E-commerce, as defined by the WTO, is the production, distribution, marketing and/or sale of goods and services by electronic means. It can cover everything from the purchase and sale of merchandise goods and digital content via online platforms to any other trade in goods or services facilitated by electronic means. With information technologies having eliminated distances between suppliers and customers, e-commerce is now a widely used platform and alternative for doing business across all sectors of the economy and for conducting international trade, and is an important part of the daily experiences and functionality of businesses and consumers across the global economy. The growing digitalization of trade and commerce has created significant new opportunities to help businesses and consumers.

The WTO has an important role to play in establishing a set of global trade rules to underpin the digital economy. In recognition of the growing importance of electronic commerce and digital trade – and the need for global trade rules in this area – Canada and other WTO members issued a joint statement at the 11th WTO Ministerial Conference in December 2017 to begin discussions towards future WTO negotiations on the trade-related aspects of e-commerce. Since March 2018, these discussions have been ongoing and are open to any WTO member who wishes to attend or participate. In January 2019, at the World Economic Forum meetings in Davos, Switzerland, officials representing 76 WTO members announced their intention to launch WTO negotiations on e-commerce in a further joint statement. In May and June 2019, Canada tabled a text proposal covering a range of areas and a concept paper titled “ Building Confidence and Trust in Digital Trade ”. An additional concept paper entitled “Preventing the use of personal information from being used for the discrimination or persecution of natural persons” was tabled in September 2019. Canada subsequently tabled an additional text proposal on personal information, building off its September 2019 concept paper.  Other WTO members have also tabled text proposals with a view to transitioning exploratory discussions to text-based negotiations.

Canada is a knowledge and service economy and has an interest in establishing a strong, rules-based framework in the area of e-commerce and digital trade. A future WTO agreement on e-commerce is expected to establish a more open, transparent and predictable global digital trading framework in which Canadian businesses and consumers can operate.

Domestic policy considerations

Through negotiations, Canada will seek to ensure an outcome that maintains appropriate policy flexibility to pursue legitimate domestic public policy objectives. This includes flexibility to adopt and maintain policies that support the creation, development and distribution of Canadian cultural content in the digital environment. Canada will also aim to maintain appropriate flexibility to adopt policies and other measures to protect the privacy and security of consumers and their personal information online.

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