18 February, 2019

ETNO position paper on a revision of WTO rules in the field of telecommunications and other digital services / e-commerce

The digital transformation is fundamentally changing societies and economies, including international trade. Digital trade creates tremendous opportunities for inclusive economic growth and societal advancement. At the same time, digitally enabled trade in goods and services has given rise to new regulatory challenges. Therefore, we are convinced that the digital economy should be an important element of bilateral and multilateral trade policy. Already in July 2016, ETNO called for an update of trade policy to reflect new realities of the digital economy.1


In light of the above, we welcome and support the Joint Statement initiative on Electronic Commerce that was launched during the Buenos Aires WTO Ministerial in 2017.2 In this context, it makes sense for the European Commission to publish a Communication3 proposing exploratory work towards a revision of WTO rules in the field of telecommunications services.

The Communication contains a set of proposals to update the GATS Telecommunications Reference Paper from 1998, with the intention “to reflect the developments that have occurred and continue to occur in the sector as well as the reality of today's internet ecosystem”. We fully support and encourage this objective, as the penetration of and interaction with telecommunications and other digital services have radically changed over the last two decades. Nowadays, more than half of the world’s population use the internet, and more than half of all internet users are active users4 of social platforms and internet-distributed audio-visual content.

The Joint Statement on e-commerce should take a wider look at the digital economy than just “e-commerce” as such. Time is ripe to define a new framework for global disciplines embracing the whole digital ecosystem of business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) transactions. This paper comments on both EU Communications5 and makes several proposals to amend or define new provisions aimed at taking full account of the significant developments in digital trade.

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