Across the Great Wall: E-commerce Joint Statement Initiative Negotiation and China

19 Pages Posted: 19 Oct 2020 Last revised: 2 Jan 2021

See all articles by Henry S. Gao

Henry S. Gao

Singapore Management University - Yong Pung How School of Law

Date Written: June 19, 2020


On 13 December 2017, 71 Members of the World Trade Organization (“WTO”) led by the US, EU and Japan issued a “Joint Statement on Electronic Commerce” at the 11th WTO Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In the Joint Statement, the Members announced that they would “initiate exploratory work together toward future WTO negotiations on trade related aspects of electronic commerce”. At the World Economic Forum on 25 January 2019, 76 WTO Members issued another Joint Statement, which announced their intention to “commence WTO negotiations on trade-related aspects of electronic commerce”. The most notable new participant in the second Joint Statement is China, which has so far resisted the electronic commerce initiative.

Why was China reluctant to participate in the e-commerce negotiation at first? Why did it change the position in 2019? What will be the main issues in the negotiation? What are the positions of China and how will its participation shape the negotiation? By answering these questions, this paper provides a critical analysis to the data regulation of China, a world leader in AI and data-driven economy.

This paper will proceed in four parts. The first part reviews the development of the internet and e-commerce in China, as well as China’s experiences on e-commerce issues in WTO and beyond, especially in free trade agreements. The second part discusses the history of the e-commerce negotiations in the WTO, from the 1998 e-commerce Declaration and the Doha Declaration, to the joint statement in 2017 and the launch of the plurilateral Joint Statement Initiative (“JSI”) negotiations in 2019, with China joining at the last minute. The third part analyses in detail China’s three submissions in the negotiations, as well as the most problematic issues for China. The paper will conclude with reflections on how the negotiations will unfold, especially how the main sticking points in China’s internet and data regulatory regime could be addressed.

Keywords: trade, WTO, E-commcer, digital trade, JSI

Suggested Citation

Gao, Henry S., Across the Great Wall: E-commerce Joint Statement Initiative Negotiation and China (June 19, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

Henry S. Gao (Contact Author)

Singapore Management University - Yong Pung How School of Law ( email )

55 Armenian Street
Singapore, 179943


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