A WTO Agreement on Electronic Commerce: An Enquiry Into Its Legal Substance and Viability
Trade Law 4.0 Working Paper No 1 (2021)
43 Pages Posted: 11 Feb 2022 Last revised: 6 Apr 2022
Date Written: December 2, 2021
Electronic commerce has been one of the very few areas of trade law, where one can observe a willingness shared by the international community to move forward and actively engage in new rule-making. This is reflected in the current WTO Joint Statement Initiative on Electronic Commerce, which aims at the completion of a plurilateral agreement on this topic. The article contextualizes and explores these developments by looking at the relevant digital trade provisions in preferential trade agreements (PTAs), in particular by highlighting the legal innovation in the most advanced templates of the CPTPP and the USMCA, as well as those in dedicated digital economy agreements, such as the ones between the United States and Japan and between Chile, New Zealand and Singapore. The article also covers the newer EU trade deals and looks at the RCEP, as the first agreement with digital trade provisions that includes China, so as to give a sense of the dynamic governance environment on issues of digital trade. The article compares the PTA rule-frameworks with the WTO negotiations on electronic commerce and seeks to identify points of convergence and divergence reflected in the latest negotiation proposals tabled by WTO Members. The analytical focus here is placed on the legal substance of the future WTO deal and its viability to adequately address the practical reality of the data- driven economy.
Keywords: digital trade, electronic commerce, World Trade Organization, Joint Statement Initiative, preferential trade agreements, data, cross-border data flows, CPTPP, USMCA, DTA, DEPA, RCEP, TCA
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