ICC brings voice of global business to WTO e-commerce negotiations

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ICC Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva, Crispin Conroy, today presented recommendations from the global business community during the first round of WTO negotiations on the trade-related aspects of e-commerce.


In January 2019, 77 WTO Member States announced the creation of plurilateral negotiations to establish rules for electronic commerce (e-commerce). As the world business organization, ICC has called upon its global network to form a working group on e-commerce to bring the perspective of business, especially MSMEs, to the negotiating table.


The ICC Working Group on E-commerce is composed of more than 80 active member companies and trade associations worldwide. The Working Group spans firms across all industries participating in or affected by the digital economy, including content creators, e-commerce platforms, express shippers and payment providers.

Commenting on the WTO negotiations, ICC Secretary-General John W.H. Denton AO said:

“While developments in the digital economy have resulted in remarkable change, the rules that underpin our multilateral trade system are still stuck in the past. I commend the 77 participating WTO Member States for taking up this important challenge on e-commerce and making sure that the voice of business is heard at every step of the process.”

The need to change

Today’s digital environment is enabling micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) greater access to global trade markets than ever before. Studies show that MSMEs using online platforms are around five times more likely to export than those in the traditional economy using traditional channels. Empirical research also finds that companies connected to the global economy are more productive and contribute to the development of prosperous communities. MSMEs and entrepreneurs in developing economies are already at the forefront of this emerging trend.

Digital-led changes to the composition, nature and speed of global trade are increasing policy frictions. Today’s trade rules—which largely reflect 20th Century patterns of trade—are not always well-suited to supporting the growth of MSME e-commerce, and in many key areas, have not kept up with the growth of the digital economy.

In particular, the ICC Baseline Position outlines a three-pronged approach for the creation of an effective WTO e-commerce agreement:

  1. Enhance connectivity and capacity building for e-commerce.
  2. Build upon WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement to simplify and expedite e-commerce shipments.
  3. Establish fit-for-purpose digital rules.


By implementing these recommendations, the WTO can create a level playing field that allows all innovative businesses to benefit from new forms of e-commerce technology. Similarly, ICC’s Five Ingredients for a High Standard Outcome emphasises the importance of open market access, trade facilitation, and capacity building during the negotiation process.