Impatient with a lack of World Trade Organization rules on the explosive growth of e-commerce, 76 members – including the United States, China, the European Union and Japan – agreed on Friday to start negotiating a new framework.
China, which is locked in a trade war with the United States, signaled conditional support for the initiative but said it should also take into account the needs of developing countries, in comments likely to rile Washington.
E-commerce, or online trade in goods and services, has become a huge component of the global economy. A WTO report put the total value of e-commerce in 2016 at $27.7 trillion, of which nearly $24 trillion was business-to-business transactions.
On the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, negotiators from the 76 countries and regions agreed on Friday to hammer out an agenda for negotiations they hope to kick off this year on setting new e-commerce rules.
“I’ve said for quite some time it was unacceptable that by 2018 … the WTO won’t have a deeper, more effective conversation about a phenomenon that is driving the global economy today,” said WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo.
“China was not an original signatory but now they are. They have reaffirmed their intention to start negotiations on electronic commerce. I think this is a welcome development,” he told a briefing in Davos.