Governing E-Commerce Prospects and Problems

23 Pages Posted: 10 May 2012

See all articles by Seamus Simpson

Seamus Simpson

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Rorden Wilkinson

Brooks World Poverty Institute

Date Written: August 15, 2003


The growth and development of advanced communications networks, most outstandingly the Internet, has facilitated the creation of an expanding international electronic marketplace within which electronic commerce takes place with increasing frequency. The relative newness of this electronic forum has ensured that, until recently, e-commerce has been constrained by few rules, disciplinary procedures and operational norms, and has been characterised by considerable uncertainty about how to develop suitable governance arrangements. This paper considers the as-yet- only-weakly-established but nevertheless, nascent, structure of global e-commerce governance. It begins by establishing the character of the main regulation that has so far emerged. Next, it explores the likely shape of a World Trade Organisation (WTO) centred system of e-commerce regulation. We suggest that WTO regulation of e-commerce will result from a series of modifications to existing rules in key legal agreements administered by the Organisation. These rules reflect a negotiated complex of the economic preferences and imperatives of dominant interests in the leading industrial states and will, in turn, be implemented, operationalised, monitored and enforced by a range of state and non- state actors, though they will also contain those concessions necessary to garner compliance to such a system. Two consequences are likely to result from the regulation of e-commerce in this way: (i) the system of disadvantage already existent in global trade governance will be extended to this electronic forum; and (ii) the regulation of e-commerce in this way will ‘lock’ less able economic actors into an unequal and disadvantageous system of governance with little prospect of change.

Our argument unfolds as follows. We begin by examining the nature of e-commerce and develop an account of why and how it has been propounded as a vehicle for growth for all economies, not least emerging and least developed states. Thereafter, focusing on the Internet in particular, we explore early efforts at developing a global system of e-commerce regulation and, in so doing, identify the regulatory principles and practices that have been established in a number of what might be described as “auxillary”, though vitally important, regulatory organisations and which have tended to become common currency in policy circles. We then turn our attention to the nature of global trade governance and the emerging role of the WTO. In the final section, we offer our concluding comments.

Suggested Citation

Simpson, Seamus and Wilkinson, Rorden, Governing E-Commerce Prospects and Problems (August 15, 2003). TPRC 2003, Available at SSRN:

Seamus Simpson (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Rorden Wilkinson

Brooks World Poverty Institute ( email )

Humanities Bridgeford Street Building
Manchester, M13 9PL
United Kingdom

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