Work Programme on eCommerce.

General Council Meeting

December 9-11, 2019


Statement by India

Work Programme on eCommerce.

1. We are aware that the Ministerial Decision on the moratorium would expire this month unless the GC decides to renew it for another six months up to the 12th Ministerial Conference.

2. An extremely important issue highlighted in our two recent submissions on the moratorium made jointly with South Africa in the GC is the need of providing clarity and arriving at a common understanding of what the moratorium covers. Without such an agreement on the scope of the moratorium and the definition of electronic transmissions, it would be very difficult, to assess the impact of moratorium on the economy, not only in terms of loss of tariff revenue but even the broader impact on our efforts at digital industrialisation. We again reiterate that much more serious and dedicated work is required to examine more deeply the scope of the moratorium, the definition of ET and to identify the categories of products which are covered under the moratorium.

3. We have also been repeatedly highlighting in the various meetings of the GC in 2018 and 2019 that the developing countries bear the brunt of the potential tariff revenue loss due to the moratorium. The UNCTAD Trade and Development Report of 2019 confirms that the moratorium results in a loss in tariff revenue of more than $10 billion globally, 95 per cent of which is borne by developing countries. It is also important to keep in mind that the estimate of $10 billion as the potential tariff revenue loss per annum is only the tip of the iceberg, as this estimate is based on only a small number of 49 HS-6-digit products. Further, as more products are getting digitized due to technological advancement, this estimate of fiscal revenue foregone would snowball.

4. Chair, with the advent of industry 4.0 and the advance of 3D printing technologies in the near future, the moratorium will also erode the existing GATT bound rates, which are typically higher in developing countries, and bring them to zero for digitized products. This could have a catastrophic effect on the ability of developing countries to protect their nascent domestic digital industries resulting in loss of jobs and destitution.

5. The above issues need to be well understood for enabling developing country Members to make more informed policy decisions. In the various meetings of the GC held in 2018 and 2019, we have been suggesting that the General Council intensify and accelerate work under the multilaterally mandated Work Programme and convene dedicated discussions to find answers to the key issues highlighted in our submissions as well as any other issue related to the moratorium, which would ensure that members have sufficient time to reflect and consult with their stakeholders before the decision on the moratorium due in December 2019.

6. In fact, more than two months back during the informal, open-ended meeting of the GC held on 1st October 2019, we suggested that the WTO Secretariat organize another workshop on the moratorium on the lines of what was organized in April 2019 wherein all the leading researchers and experts on this issue are provided a common platform to deliberate on the key issues relating to the moratorium. However, our proposal for even a workshop was not agreed to.

7. In short, despite repeated submissions and discussions on these critical issues, namely scope of the moratorium and definition of ET, a comprehensive understanding of the impact of the moratorium and on imposing custom duties on ET, we have not seen focussed engagement on the part of the Membership to try and find answers to these pressing questions.

8. In recent times the WTO has been unable to address the issues of unilateral measures by certain Members, attacks on the core principles of non-discrimination and S&D, disciplines on fishery subsidies, asymmetries in the Agreement on Agriculture or deliver on a number of mandates, such as on a permanent solution for Public Stock Holding for food security purposes. All of these issues will doubtless be on the WTO agenda for the next 6 months. We believe the issue around the moratorium should be addressed along with all these issues at MC12, with the membership pro-actively and constructively engaging on them over the next six months.

9. Therefore, in the spirit of working together, when the WTO is in turbulent waters, India will at this time not come in the way of a consensus on the issue of a six-month extension on the moratorium and can join the consensus on the Chair’s text as outlined in document No. WT/GC/W/794. However, the Work Programme on electronic commerce at the WTO needs to be reinvigorated. It needs to be structured and prioritized and work on it needs to begin early in 2020, with a commitment of the Membership to engage on topics brought forward by Members including on scope, definition and impact of imposing customs duties on electronic transmissions. Without clarity on these issues, especially the scope of the moratorium on customs duties, there can be no predictability and certainty even for business, trade and industry.

10. We will continue to closely watch developments over the next six months and the commitment of the membership to addressing our concerns, which are shared by a number of Members from developing countries and LDCs, in determining our position on this issue at MC12.



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