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Commerce department, Technology News, ETtech

New e-commerce policy will help India in WTO negotiations: Commerce department The commerce department has asserted that India requires a domestic e-commerce policy as there was pressure from developed countries on it to take part in WTO negotiations on online trade and also to counter China’s domination in the digital space.

The commerce department’s draft e-commerce policy has come in for criticism from several quarters including government departments and ministers, as reported by ET on Wednesday. But a commerce department official said such a policy was needed by India to safeguard its interests and other ministries and departments were shying away from their responsibilities.

The idea of the policy was to create a robust information base, facilitate an ecosystem for domestic economy, strengthen consumer protection in the e-commerce space, ensure safety of personal and community data in the country and become WTO compliant, said another official justifying the department’s initiative.
New e-commerce policy will help India in WTO negotiations: Commerce department A group of 71 countries — which account for half of WTO’s membership and for around 77% of global trade — have already launched intensive discussions on e-commerce. India has so far opposed negotiations on e-commerce but feels with the e-commerce issues creeping into regional trade agreements as well, it needs to have clarity on what it wants. Many countries have time and again asked India for its stand on negotiating rules on e-commerce at WTO and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement, but India has so far refused to engage in these talks. “We need to have a clear domestic policy to back our stance,” a negotiator in the know of the details said.

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Fresh Draft
The department says if attempts at WTO are successful, developing countries may be left with little flexibility to take measures for nurturing the domestic digital economy and bridge the divide to reach a more balanced dispensation.

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“It is, therefore, imperative that the approach the government takes on issues related to ecommerce in international trade negotiations and discussions is fully cognizant of the need to preserve flexibility and create a level-playing field…,” the draft policy says, justifying why adomestic policy is needed.

Moreover, it is against ecommerce being pitched as a trade facilitating platform and becoming the back door for securing market access objectives, especially in the garb of small and medium enterprises.

Recently, India and South Africa have asked WTO to explain why customs duty should not be levied on electronic transmissions. “As more products, which are presently traded in physical form, get digitised and delivered through electronic transmissions, the moratorium on customs duties would result in higher revenue loss,” the two said in their joint submission. The two have requested the organisation to examine all issues related to the imposition of customs duties on electronic transmissions as the US, Singapore and Korea demanded the temporary moratorium be made permanent.

The commerce department will soon put out a fresh draft policy for further debate after taking feedback from other stakeholders including relevant ministries and departments. The hotly debated issues in the draft policy relate to data localisation, setting up of an ecommerce regulator, move to allow 49% foreign investment in inventory-based online retail, restrictions on deep discounts, and preference for RuPay.

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