E-commerce Failure - But...

E-commerce Failure - But...

UNI is in possession of a draft e-commerce statement which will be issued today on the last day of the Ministerial. In the wake of defeat, the new E-commerce Rules proponents will continue their quest

I didn't have the energy to write this blog post last night as I returned to the hotel. Felt flat and somehow drained. Having hovered around the negotiation hotel most of the afternoon and evening, I think the witnessing of global power games and frustrated negotiators had got to me.

Anyhow - its now morning, 0630 Buenos Aires time and today is the last day of the WTO Ministerial. I don't follow many of the issues at stake here, from fisheries, to agriculture, to tariffs and rules. But through the amazingly talented people in our network, I get a good picture of what is happening. Conclusion: The WTO is on its knees, crippled by an obnoxious United States of America and deep deep divisions between regions. 

E-commerce - defeat but...

UNI has followed, tried to influence and discussed e-commerce rules here at the WTO. Recapping these rules are not only about buying and selling goods on the internet, they are about:

  • the free flow of data
  • the removal of technology transfer requirements
  • the removal of localisation demands
  • the removal of the obligation to reveal the source code
  • ... and other things...

We have had, and will continue to have, sometimes fierce, but most times civil, discussions with employers, governments and interest groups on why we are critical to these ideas, especially the one on the free flow of data. Our main points being:

    • the free flow of data will only benefit the Global North in general, but Big Tech in particular. With over 50% of the world's population who still do not have access to the internet, and the majority of these billions of people living in the Global South, why should the South sign up for something, they can't even benefit from? 
    • the free flow of data must not be conflated with the notion of the free flow of information. The two things often are, yet they are very different. Conflating them is manipulative.
    • the free flow of data does not equal the free and equal access to data. This is important, for although data one day might roam freely across the world, it mainly flows one way: into the hands of Big Tech. If the Digital Economy's oil is to benefit us all, we need other rules.

Some of the people we have lobbied think we are against digitalisation. Its an easy argument for them to pose. I prove them wrong each time. Our arguments are about privacy rights and global empowerment. 

Anyhow, the EU, Canada, the US and Japan have not succeeded in persuading the rest, or even the majority of the WTO countries, to support their suggestions for a new set of fully liberalised free-flow-of-data e-commerce rules. Admitting defeat they don't give up though, and will be issuing a E-commerce joint statement today, which will be signed by a number of countries. It says that work on E-commerce will continue within the realms of the WTO for interested parties. See the leaked text here.

"Enabling E-commerce" initiative 

A new initiative driven by the WTO, the World Economic Forum and the Electronic World Trade Platform (eWTP) has been launched during the Ministerial. It is designed to drive public-private dialogue on e-commerce and aims to "bring together leading voices from governments, businesses and other stakeholders to begin a high-level conversation on e-commerce policies and practices that can benefit small businesses". UNI will follow this work.

Our role

Let me end with a few reflections on our role here at the WTO. Naturally, it is healthy to reflect whether we together with our union colleagues from across the world and the NGOs we work with, have really got a say? There is no doubt that the WTO needs to open up, needs to place civil society voices in geographical proximity of the negotiations. Needs to welcome and foster dialogue. We have had to work extremely hard to gain access to delegations, and to overcome the physical barriers to dialogue. But we have, and when we have, we have managed to influence the thinking and perceptions of some. Every changed mind, and open dialogue, equals a lesson learnt for us, and for those we meet. Dialogue is the way forward - also with regards trade.