On July 13th, 2017, the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) organised a dialogue on digital trade-related provisions in regional trade agreements (RTAs) under the RTA Exchange dialogue series aimed at systematically exploring possibilities for convergence and coherence-building between trade agreements at the regional and multilateral levels.
The Internet has revolutionised communication, information, and innovation, opening up new areas for economic growth, prospects for employment and opportunities for participation in global markets by individuals, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and businesses in developing countries. Many of the established regulatory frameworks for governing international trade and investment predate the Internet era, and are in need of updating to be supportive of the digital economy to meet its potential for inclusion and economic growth.
Rapidly evolving business models, a burgeoning Internet of Things, breakneck technological advancement, and constantly changing domestic regulatory frameworks in many countries, especially in terms of the treatment of data, make a multilateral agreement more complex and difficult to reach. In the post-Nairobi context, digital trade and e-commerce have been floated on various occasions as possible issues for discussion in the run-up to the Eleventh Ministerial Conference (MC11). The topic is however potentially very broad and so far, proponents have only started indicating specific areas where new disciplines could be devised in the WTO.
In the meantime, RTAs have continued to flourish and propagate alongside the multilateral trade system, developing new rules for digital trade and serving as laboratories for devising and testing innovative disciplines. As WTO members explore options to move forward a discussion on e-commerce in the WTO, such initiatives can provide valuable lessons and key precedents to build upon.