India has submitted a discussion paper to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to highlight the importance of promoting inclusive and equitable development of e-commerce at the global level. The paper will be taken up in the WTO General Council (GC) Facilitator-led structured discussions on e-commerce happening on February 21, 2023.

India is taking a leadership role in getting WTO member countries to recognise issues of importance to developing countries and least developed countries such as the digital divide, consumer protection in e-commerce, the role of digital public infrastructure, technology transfer and anti-competitive practices in e-commerce. While it has already submitted a paper on consumer protection in the context of e-commerce, the latest one talks about the role of Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) in promoting e-commerce. The paper presents an approach to overcome the challenge of the digital divide and highlights various issues limiting the adoption and use of e-commerce, the paradigm of Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI), and the ideal features of “Good” Digital Public Infrastructure. It concludes by highlighting some of India’s notable DPI projects, such as UPI, COWIN, ONDC, etc.

The wide disparity in e-commerce readiness and participation, domination of the digital landscape by platforms from a few selected countries, issues of trust in e-commerce transactions and limited access to digital solutions due to copyright regimes and proprietary systems are some of the issues highlighted in the discussion paper.

India argues that a good Digital Public Infrastructure can offer features like commonality and interoperability, modular design and can be inclusive and equitable while maintaining high standards of protection of rights and privacy. Competition and public agency and usage of non-proprietary components are the other advantages that were highlighted. 

The first structured discussion on e-commerce was held on January 26 where members engaged on India’s proposal on the need for consumer protection. India has showcased its initiative in this regard -- the passing of the Consumer Protection (E-commerce) Rules under the Consumer Protection Act. Following the discussions, the GC Facilitator noted that the topic had seen engagement from an extremely large number of members, covering all continents and most geographies of the world. As possible next steps, it was suggested that the WTO could consider engaging with other relevant international organisations to facilitate in-depth discussions on the subject.

E-Commerce entered WTO discussions in 1998, with the establishment of the Work Programme on E-Commerce (WPEC). Ministerial Declarations, over the years, have called for continuing or re-invigorating work under the WPEC, and a series of dedicated discussions to address cross-cutting issues took place between 2001-2005 and from 2009 to 2013. India supports exploratory and non-negotiating engagement under the WPEC at the WTO.

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