Tech Lead­ers to Dis­cuss Ecomm with WTO Chief

Pres­sure on In­dian govt for in­clu­sion of ecomm-re­lated dis­ci­plines in WTO agenda

The Economic Times - - Companies: Pursuit Of Profit - Kir­tika.Suneja@ times­

New Delhi: Top of­fi­cials from at least 50 on­line re­tail and tech com­pa­nies will come to­gether to dis­cuss In­dia’s ecom­merce in­dus­try when they meet World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion chief Roberto Azevêdo next week even as the gov­ern­ment is yet to come out with a pol­icy on this mat­ter. The In­dia heads of Ama­zon, Uber, Google and Mi­crosoft, founders of Flip­kart and Paytm, chiefs of TCS and In­fosys and se­nior of­fi­cials from Ap­ple In­dia and Air­tel Pay­ments Bank fig­ure in the list of likely par­tic­i­pants at a dis­cus­sion on in­ter­net, tech­nol­ogy and ecom­merce or­gan­ised by Su­nil Bharti Mit­tal-headed In­ter­na­tional Cham­ber of Commerce in New Delhi on Fe­bru­ary 8. Azevêdo has been push­ing for ecom­merce-re­lated dis­ci­plines to be in­cluded in the WTO agenda for the min­is­te­rial meet­ing in De­cem­ber. He main­tains that ecom­merce can play a piv­otal role in rais­ing liv­ing stan­dards in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries. At present, there are eight ecom­merce sub­mis­sions in the WTO for dis­cus­sion.

His visit takes place as In­dia is un­der pres­sure, es­pe­cially by the US, to open its ecom­merce sec­tor. The US wants to pro­hibit dig­i­tal cus­toms du­ties, en­able cross-bor­der data flows, pro­mote a free and open in­ter­net and pre­vent lo­cal­i­sa­tion bar­ri­ers. Out­go­ing US Trade Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Michael Fro­man had asked In­dia to open its ecom­merce sec­tor to for­eign in­vest­ment. Sim­i­larly, China has pro­posed cross-bor­der ecom­merce and trans­parency on ecom­merce poli­cies.

“Our pol­icy has not evolved on ecom­merce,” said an In­dian commerce depart­ment of­fi­cial. The gov­ern­ment is al­ready in talks with ecom­merce com­pa­nies op­er­at­ing in the coun­try.

More­over, for the first time, the G-20 has sought the views of its mem­bers on ecom­merce. More than 30 del­e­ga­tions, most of which are G-20 mem­bers, have as- ked to ex­plore link­ages between dig­i­tal trade and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment within the WTO group­ing while ad­dress­ing “dig­i­tal pro­tec­tion­ism.”

Ex­perts fear this meet­ing could lay the ground for talks on ecom­merce is­sues at the min­is­te­rial, for which In­dia is not ready. “The gov­ern­ment’s job is not to pan­der to spe­cial in­ter­est groups. We can’t al­low our agenda to get hi­jacked by this in­di­rect lob­by­ing through in­dus­try,” said an ex­pert on WTO mat­ters.

Biswa­jit Dhar, a pro­fes­sor at Jawa­har­lal Nehru Univer­sity, said th­ese is­sues need se­ri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion by the gov­ern­ment in con­sul­ta­tion with the in­dus­try.

“A bal­anced agenda needs to be de­vel­oped tak­ing into ac­count the con­cerns of small traders. The gov­ern­ment must flag out­stand­ing is­sues of the Doha Round im­me­di­ately so that they can be con­sid­ered in the 11th min­is­te­rial con­fer­ence later in the year,” he added.

Though In­dia can ben­e­fit from ecom­merce, the gains are lim­ited to freer flows of data. “In­dia’s gains from ecom­merce ne­go­ti­a­tions are per­ceived to be en­hanc­ing ex­ports of IT and ITeS to the EU. How­ever, what In­dia seeks to achieve on pro­hi­bi­tions on data trans­mis­sion are un­lik- ely,” said Abhijit Das, head of the Cen­tre for WTO Stud­ies at the In­dian In­sti­tute of For­eign Trade in New Delhi. “EU is ex­tremely un­likely to agree to any pro­vi­sion which re­quires it to per­mit un­re­stricted data flows. Ecom­merce is not only trade over the in­ter­net but it has im­pli­ca­tions for in­dus­try and even ac­cess to medicines.”

Th­ese con­cerns could be flagged by the CEOs of soft­ware ser­vices com­pa­nies TCS, In­fosys, HCL Tech­nolo­gies and Tech Mahin­dra, which are said to be in­vited for the di­a­logue.

How­ever, peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter said In­dia is un­likely to de­lib­er­ate ecom­merce at length be­cause nei­ther does it have a ne­go­ti­at­ing man­date to do so nor is the in­dus­try or gov­ern­ment pre­pared enough to com­ment on the is­sue at the level of the WTO.

“In­dia is not likely to dis­cuss ecom­merce be­cause it has do­mes­tic is­sues to re­solve. In­dian ecom­merce com­pa­nies have prob­lems with the for­eign ones and there is dirty com­pe­ti­tion to grab mar­ket share. In­dian firms fear that the for­eign com­pa­nies will drive them out be­cause they have deep pock­ets,” said a New Delhi-based ex­pert on trade mat­ters.

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