The 76 members of the World Trade Organisation, which together account for 90 per cent of global commerce, are discussing updating common law to govern digital trade, the fastest growing type of trade. They will focus on e-commerce, but will also address broader issues related to data flow and the goods and services that data support.
The breathtaking pace of technological progress has made it difficult for many existing laws to keep up. In some cases, we need entirely new laws. Although the cross-border consumer e-commerce market is set to reach $1tn next year, the law on digital trade dates back to 1998; Only one in 32 people had Internet access.
If negotiations go well, the benefits could be huge. Trade services and cross-border data flows can drive global trade growth and make a significant contribution to global gross domestic product, provided the law is used properly. To better realise this potential, policymakers and negotiators would do well to focus on three areas.
Both consumers and businesses should want the negotiations to succeed. Consumers will benefit from cheaper goods and services, while lower costs will allow small and medium-sized businesses to export more widely, supporting good-paying jobs and economic growth. The convenience and efficiency of e-commerce will also facilitate trade between emerging markets, boost economic development and reduce poverty.