E-Commerce and the Digital Economy

National Workshop on Electronic Commerce: Lao PDR

This workshop organised under the TAF2+ WTO Umbrella Grant convened key stakeholders of e-commerce in Lao PDR, mainly drawn from the government, to review progress and provide inputs towards fieldwork and completion of a research study focusing on six themes covered by the WTO Joint Statement on Electronic Commerce.

While efforts continue to revive the multilateral track of the World Trade Organization (WTO), recent Joint Statement Initiatives (JSI) on some new issues have become an increasingly active part of Members’ work and are expected to further gain momentum towards and after the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference. This is particularly the case of the Joint Statement Initiative on Electronic Commerce, under which discussions are progressing fast with seven negotiating rounds completed as of February 2020. Lao PDR is a co-sponsor of the JSI since its inception at the 11the WTO Ministerial Conference. It has also supported the second Joint Statement, launching the negotiations, in January 2019.

Given the potential standard-setting nature of this initiative, as well as its probable important impact on market liberalization in goods and services domains, stakeholders in Lao PDR will need to understand where the country stands in areas where these negotiations may set new international standards or require opening new markets. Building such understanding will be necessary in order to: (i) know national priorities and interests in these areas; (ii) factor these in international trade negotiating positions, where relevant; and (iii) effectively craft national policies and strategies for the future.


To support this endeavour, the government of Lao PDR requested technical assistance from the UK Trade and Investment Advocacy Fund (TAF2+), under which a confidential national study has been commissioned to identify the country’s main priorities, state of play and way forward in key e-commerce themes covered by the JSI.

This workshop convened key stakeholders of e-commerce, mainly from the government, to review progress and provide inputs towards fieldwork and completion of the research study focusing on six themes covered by the JSI. In particular, the objectives of the workshop were to: (i) Present, review and discuss early findings of a research study with the author; (ii) Provide comments and inputs on desktop research; and (iii) Provide comments and inputs towards upcoming fieldwork.

Discussions at the workshop focused on six main themes addressed by the research study and covered by the JSI:

Enabling E-Commerce

Electronic Transactions Frameworks and facilitation of e-payments are indispensable starting points for cross-border e-commerce trade. For this reason, a careful stock of the status quo and analysis of possible improvements in these areas appear to be necessary. Paperless trading discipline, in both of its aspects – online availability of trade related information and possibility to submit the trade-related documents online – is gradually becoming reality and keeping up to date in this area could amount to a next step in further trade facilitation.

Openness and E-Commerce

The rules in the areas of cross-border transfer of information by electronic means and location of computing facilities are likely to become parts of the e-commerce JSI. Nevertheless, the interests of the developing members are not yet duly presented and explored. It does, however, seem that different stakeholders might have particular stakes, which might be important for development of the digital industry. It might be worth exploring them.

Trust and E-Commerce

The frameworks of online consumer protection and protection of privacy appear to be crucial for gaining foreign consumers and hence developing national e-commerce providers. Both are issues of consumer trust, for which the JSI might not only be a guiding point for alignment of domestic legislation with the expected standards, but also a chance to better explain the solutions adopted nationally. Also, the discussion pertaining to the source code disciplines might raise important issues potentially clarifying the notion of the so-called “forced technology transfer”. Also, specific technology transfer rules of benefit to developing members might be thought of as, at minimum, a transitional solution facilitating their entry into digital trade markets.


Another issue actively discussed within the Initiative, updating the Telecommunications Reference Paper, also seems to be of relevance to the same domain. In particular, since the implementation of the rules prescribed by the original Reference Paper on Basis Telecommunications (on which the EU proposal builds), which Lao PDR has incorporated as an additional vertical commitment in its services schedule upon accession, is not yet fully completed and certain challenges are faced.

Market Access

Market access, in particular, services market access issues, on which the study will also focus, will ensure analysis of the proposed additional concessions, albeit, within the limit of the scope and time allocated. It was decided to focus on services since the work on the ITA (I and II), a likely commitment under the JSI in the market access in goods domain, is currently undertaken under a different project.

Cross-cutting issues

Exploration of options for capacity building and technical assistance will be based on assessment of the development challenges raised by particular disciplines, in an attempt to shape solutions allowing Lao PDR to gasp the benefits of full participation in global digital trade. Also, exchange of views on legal issues in the JSI will feature a discussion addressing varied institutional questions underpinning the new agreement (e.g. place in the WTO legal framework etc.). These might have systemic implications as well as an important impact, should implementation of the disciplines by Lao PDR and their application follow.