In a move that formally counters efforts by members such as the EU, Japan, and Canada to push new e-commerce rules at the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) ministerial meet in Buenos Aires, India has circulated a draft ministerial decision stating that work should continue as per the current work programme based on “existing mandate and guidelines".

India fears that the new global e-commerce rules could provide unfair market access to foreign online retail firms, hurting the rapidly growing domestic startups.

“India decided to be pro-active by circulating its own draft on e-commerce ensuring no changes in the current structure of discussions. This was needed to counter several developed members, including the EU and China, that are trying to move beyond the existing work programme and setting the tone for commencing negotiations,” a government official told a business news daily.

Last month, a group of countries, which included the EU, Canada, Australia, Chile, South Korea and Paraguay, circulated a draft declaration seeking to establish a working party at the Buenos Aires meet and authorising it to conduct preparations for and carry out negotiations on trade-related aspects of electronic commerce on the basis of proposal by members.

E-commerce was made a part of the WTO in 1998, but in a limited way. Members had agreed to give a temporary moratorium on import duties on digital transmissions. This moratorium is extended every two years. It was also decided to hold discussions on various aspects of e-commerce, but there was no understanding on negotiating rules.

"There is no way we can allow negotiations on e-commerce rules to begin at the WTO. It could be disastrous for our country as it could lead to goods coming in without duties through online trade. We want status-quo on e-commerce and that is what we have sought,” said an Indian official.

The eleventh Ministerial Conference of the WTO in Buenos Aires from December 10 to 13 will be attended by Commerce and Industry Minister Suresh Prabhu.

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