Pakistan not to attend WTO e-commerce talks

Updated February 07, 2019

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Global rules for e-commerce will be formulated during the talks, and Pakistan will have no say, laments senior official. ─ Reuters/File
Global rules for e-commerce will be formulated during the talks, and Pakistan will have no say, laments senior official. ─ Reuters/File

ISLAMABAD: As more than 75 member countries of the Geneva-based World Trade Organisation (WTO) sit down to design a framework to govern e-commerce, Pakistan has decided to not be a part of these negotiations, sources familiar with the matter informed Dawn on Wednesday.

On Jan 25, 2019, around 75 WTO member states, who make up for the 90 per cent of the total global e-commerce market share, decided to launch negotiations to regulate online marketplaces.

A senior official, while talking to Dawn, said Pakistan is totally cut off and isolated from multilateral trading system and has opted out of the forum while the group of countries has agreed to develop rules under the ambit of multilateral trade system.

“E-commerce global rules will be formulated and we will have no say”, he lamented.

Former commerce minister Khurram Dastgir Khan was once leading the e-commerce debates at the WTO forum and the previous government had also directed the ministry to draft e-commerce policy. However, former government had expressed concern over the inability of the commerce and information technology ministries to formulate a sound national e-commerce policy.

The newly appointed Adviser on Commerce Razak Dawood is yet to visit WTO and take part in negotiations despite being in government for the last six months.

The current size of Pakistan’s e-commerce industry has not been ascertained, but the commerce ministry estimates it is likely to cross $1 billion mark by 2020.

As per the joint WTO declaration of January 2019, 75 countries showed their willingness to commence negotiations on trade-related aspects of e-commerce. It was also agreed to achieve a high standard outcome that builds on existing WTO agreements and frameworks with the participation of as many members as possible.

The group also vowed to take into account the unique opportunities and challenges faced by members states including developing countries and least developed countries as well as by micro, small and medium sized enterprises, in relation to e-commerce.

“We continue to encourage all WTO members to participate in order to enhance the benefits of electronic commerce for businesses, consumers and the global economy”, the joint statement read.

As per the earlier direction, the proposed policy will primarily focus on developing rules to govern e-commerce market along with related financial and legal issues.

The Electronic Transaction Ordinance 2002 and Prevention of Electronic Crime Bill 2016 provide the basis for legislative infrastructure for e-commerce in Pakistan. Additionally, an Electronic Certification and Accreditation Council has also been established to deal with e-signatures and e-contracts for digital transactions.

Moreover, a separate law has been proposed which may include a provision for seller protection, specifying rights, obligations, liabilities and penalties for both sellers and consumers operating online.

But there is a weak regulatory mechanism for consumer protection, data and information privacy, insurance liability and dispute resolution for e-commerce transactions.

Published in Dawn, February 7th, 2019