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Govt calls for input on e-commerce rules

Sarah Putt, Contributor. 29 January 2019, 2:31 pm

What exactly are the rules for selling online to a global customer base? If you've ever wondered, then you are not alone as the World Trade Organisation is itself grappling with the question of how to regulate global e-commerce.

Trade Minister David Parker says New Zealand is one of 76 countries, representing over 90% of global trade, involved in an initiative to set rules for e-commerce. This is an area that wasn't considered 'mature' when WTO rules were previously set.

While modern e-commerce rules have been established among the 11 countries that signed up to the CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership), the WTO appears to have fallen behind. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade notes in information about the WTO negotiations on its website that "despite unprecedented growth in this market, the development of international trade rules has not kept pace."

E-commerce is obviously critical for a small trading nation like New Zealand in which, according to Business NZ, over 97 percent firms are small businesses (defined as employing up to 20 staff). The internet has enabled SMEs to take part in cross border trade in way that was only really practical for large companies in the past.

Of course, trade happens in both directions and New Zealand consumers have been quick to take advantage of online shopping, according to Parker.

"Globally, e-commerce is growing rapidly with consumer spending online doubling in the last five years and business to business e-commerce trade estimated at $19.9 trillion in 2015. In 2017, New Zealanders spent more than $3.6 billion buying goods online, up 13 per cent on the previous year."

Local businesses have the opportunity to provide feedback on the WTO e-commerce negotiations, which will canvas the following focus areas: Enabling digital trade/e-commerce (electronic transactions, customs duties etc), Openness and digital trade/e-commerce (market access, flow of information etc), Trust and digital trade/e-commerce (business and consumer trust, intellectual property) and Cross cutting issues (transparency, infrastructure gaps, cooperation).

"As a small trade-dependent country distant from our key markets, we are continually looking at ways to improve our global connectedness. The expansion of e-commerce offers the potential to help businesses overcome the challenges of scale and distance, selling products direct to consumers online and offering more choice for consumers," Parker says. 

"Our participation in these negotiations will ensure we can strongly advocate on a global stage for issues of importance to New Zealanders, including the need for robust personal privacy and consumer protections, transparency and openness, while making it easier for businesses and consumers to take advantage of the opportunities presented by e-commerce." 

You can find out more about the WTO negotiations, including how to provide input, here.


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