E-Commerce and the Digital Economy

Electronic Commerce in Trade Agreements: Experience of Small Developing Countries

In recent years, e-commerce has been firmly introduced on the agenda of trade policy makers, including from many developing countries, through regional and other trade agreements. In fact, smaller, non-emerging developing countries have participated in 32 RTAs with e-commerce provisions. This research study aims to identify the approaches smaller developing countries have taken in negotiating such agreements, as well as the potential implications at the policy and regulatory levels for them. Their experience can provide useful lessons for others which may consider negotiating e-commerce provisions in the future.

The main goal of this study is to identify the approach taken by small developing countries in negotiating RTAs with e-commerce related provisions and the commitments they have taken under three main categories as identified in Ebrahimi (2017), including their potential implications at the policy and regulatory levels. It particularly aims to help negotiators and policy makers from Africa and other small developing countries better understand the practical policy implications behind typical existing and upcoming ecommerce-related RTA provisions.

In particular, the study aims to: (i) Identify trends in e-commerce-related provisions in RTAs; (ii) Identify e-commerce-related topics where small developing countries have shown more appetite in RTAs; (iii) On identified topics organised under the three categories of CUTS’ framework, identify the purpose for their inclusion, as well as the approaches and levels of commitment accepted by small developing countries; and (iv) Assess the regulatory implications of such e-commerce provisions considered by small developing countries.

In pursuance of the above objectives, analysis in the study focuses on a sample of 32 RTAs which have at least one small, non-emerging developing country as a party.

This study unfolds over five sections, incorporating examples derived from relevant agreements. In the first section, a review of trends in provisions for e-commerce in RTAs is presented, with the diverse perspectives on e-commerce provisions and the participation of developing countries in negotiating trade agreements being explored. The second section identifies specific topics related to ecommerce in which small developing countries have shown a particular interest. The third, fourth and fifth sections explore in depth the approach, commitments and policy implications for small developing countries on e-commerce issues covered in RTAs, in the categories of market access, trade facilitation as well as rules and regulatory aspects. It concludes with a set of recommendations for negotiators from small developing countries concerning the approach of e-commerce related provisions in RTAs, based on lessons learnt.