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Co-convenors update participants on latest progress in e-commerce discussions

At a “transparency” meeting on 19 May, participants in the negotiations on electronic commerce received updates from the facilitators on the small group discussions and established two new small groups on privacy and telecommunications services. Ambassador Kazuyuki Yamazaki (Japan) outlined the co-convenors’ plans for the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12), scheduled for 12-15 June, and for the period leading up to the summer break.

Facilitators of small group discussions reported on the work undertaken in recent weeks to narrow differences in negotiating positions in the areas of open internet access, electronic transaction frameworks and cybersecurity. Ambassador Yamazaki encouraged the facilitators to try to arrive at convergence on those issues before the summer break.

Ambassador Yamazaki announced the establishment of two new small groups on privacy and telecommunications. He said that WTO members have heard a range of views on proposals related to privacy and on updating disciplines related to telecommunications services, the so-called Telecommunications Reference Paper. He stressed that the establishment of small groups on these issues will enable members to deepen their discussions.

He invited proponents of proposals that do not have a reasonable degree of support to actively build the necessary support or even consider withdrawing these proposals to achieve a greater convergence on the negotiating text. He also said that amendments to the proposals to reflect views expressed by other members should be done in a timely fashion. He added that the co-convenors are considering a stocktaking session in July to assess progress.

The co-convenors are working on initiatives to support developing and least developed countries participating in the e-commerce negotiations, said Ambassador Yamazaki. He added: “The co-convenors recognise that while the digital economy offers benefits for all, developing and least developed countries face barriers in achieving these aims.”

Ambassador Yamazaki drew attention to the joint statement issued by ministers of Australia, Japan and Singapore in December 2021, in which they set a goal for members of securing convergence on the majority of negotiating issues by the end of 2022. He said that the co-convenors are planning to issue a brief statement at MC12 that highlights the importance of the negotiations and reiterates the necessity of achieving progress.

Members also heard presentations on the importance of cross-border data transfers in the areas of life sciences and source codes.

Several members took the floor to express their strong opposition to the conflict in Ukraine. Russia responded by saying that it regrets that these interventions are being made in the context of the e-commerce discussions.