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Clock is ticking for future of e-commerce and digital trade


24 jan. 2024

A World Trade Organization (WTO) moratorium on customs duties on electronic transmissions is set to expire in February. Without its renewal, the future of e-commerce and digital trade hangs in the balance.

The WTO E-Commerce Moratorium will lapse unless WTO members agree to renew it at the WTO’s upcoming 13th Ministerial Conference, which is set to take place next month on 26-29 February in Abu Dhabi. ICC is calling on all WTO members to renew the agreement and has been making the case for its permanent adoption.  

Without an extension, governments could start to experiment with unilateral tariffs on everything from software, digital payments, and cloud services to the data supporting popular streaming services, disrupting the digital economy and driving up the cost of digital services that businesses across the world depend on to run and grow their operations. 

ICC Secretary General John W.H. Denton AO said:

“ The Moratorium is a critical safeguard and allowing it to lapse would be a historical setback, hurting small businesses and consumers the most, driving up costs and reducing access to knowledge, information, and digital tools. Not only would such a move add to a damaging pattern of escalating tariffs; it would also wreak potential havoc on the online economy. Tariffs really could ‘break the Internet’.”  

The Moratorium has been in place since the WTO’s Second Ministerial Conference in 1998. Since then, governments have agreed to extend it at the biennial WTO Ministerial Conference.

While lacking a specific definition, the term “electronic transmissions” is generally understood to mean anything from software to digital music, movies, and video games. The moratorium has played an important role in the development of the Internet by keeping tariffs off digitally delivered products, services and content.

“The agreement has played a hidden – but vital – role in the growth of the Internet economy over the past two decades shielding the Internet from distortions and disruptions induced by levies at national borders. We urge governments to ensure that the moratorium is renewed at MC13 next month,”

said Mr Denton.  

Read more about the WTO E-Commerce Moratorium here.

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