The Hindu | 18 July 2017
E-com: RCEP nations start detailed talks
Sixteen Asia Pacific nations, including India, are learnt to be discussing norms on e-commerce in great detail as part of negotiations on the proposed mega Free Trade Agreement (FTA) known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) —aimed at liberalising trade and investment in the region.
Incidentally, technical level talks of the RCEP is being held from July 18 to 28 in Hyderabad. The 16 nations include 10 Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN)-member countries and six countries with which ASEAN has an FTA (Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea and New Zealand). The RCEP’s objective is to reduce/eliminate tariffs on most goods, liberalise investment norms and trade in services, boost economic and technical co-operation, strengthen intellectual property, besides including provisions on dispute settlement and competition and covering issues such as e-commerce.
India has been opposing binding norms on opening up the e-commerce sector at the level of RCEP as well as the global level (World Trade Organisation) talks on grounds including that it (India) is yet to have a comprehensive national policy on the topic. However, it is understood that many RCEP nations including Australia, Japan and China, are pushing for inclusion of a host of elements for ‘Terms Of Reference’ (TOR) for RCEP negotiations concerning e-commerce. This with a view to have some binding commitments from the RCEP members on liberalising e-commerce and ensure that the final pact will have a separate chapter on e-commerce.
According to Jane Kelsey, professor of law, the University of Auckland, developing countries including India should be wary of demands for an absolute prohibition on disclosure of ‘source code’ (or the code behind the software) because lack of access to ‘source code’ will make it tough to prevent anti-competitive practices, hacking and violation of rights. Ms. Kelsey also cautioned against demands for prohibition of ‘data localisation’ saying accepting such demands will lead to difficulties in ensuring regulatory control over e-commerce firms.
The proposed elements for the TOR (for negotiations) are understood to include “paperless trading, electronic signatures and digital certification, online consumer protection, online personal data protection, unsolicited commercial email, domestic regulatory frameworks, customs duties (on electronic transmissions), non-discriminatory treatment of digital products, prohibition on requirements concerning the location of computing facilities, prohibition on requirements concerning the disclosure of source code as well as cross-border transfer of information by electronic means.”