Australia takes the lead in digital trade negotiations

| December 17, 2017

Australia has driven an initiative to reduce red tape and create digital export opportunities at the 11th World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference on e-commerce.

Australian Trade Minister, Steve Ciobo co-chaired a meeting on digital trade with Japan’s Minister for Economy, Trade and Industry, Hiroshige Seko, and Singapore’s Minister for Trade and Industry Mr Lim Hng Kiang. With the support of 67 other WTO Members, the group pledged to work together towards future agreements on electronic commerce.

The working body, whose members account for more than three quarters of global trade, will work to update international trade rules to ensure they keep pace with technological change. An ever higher proportion of trade will be conducted by e-commerce in the future and, at a time when the role of the WTO is being called into question in other areas, its digital trade initiative offers an opportunity for the organisation to add value and reimpose its relevance.

The group will work through 2018 to maintain the positive momentum generated by previous meetings in Buenos Aires to deliver results for both businesses and consumers around the world.

Australian exporters, ranging in size from large corporations to well established mid-sized firms and fresh tech start-ups, should benefit from new global rules to reduce red tape when operating in foreign markets. New trade rules could help them expand their exports while also protecting customers from marketing annoyances such as spam emails.

Industry welcomes Australia’s initiative

Australian Industry Group Chief Executive, Innes Willox praised the e-trade initiative as ‘timely and necessary to address the WTO’s slow response to the changing digital trading landscape’. Willox argued that multilateral regulatory bodies have failed to keep up with rapid change driven by the growth of e-commerce and have not tackled protectionist barriers.

“This initiative makes Australia a lead player in the development of a structure and nomenclature within the WTO and other multilateral bodies to address digital trade barriers. The big advantage will be consistency across all jurisdictions, particularly on data privacy.

“Australian manufacturers in particular have been early adopters of technical advances and deeply engaged in e-commerce, both business to business and directly to consumers. Updating trade rules to better reflect the nature of e-commerce should deliver value to Australian exporters and reduce red tape,” Mr Willox said in a statement on the issue.