Consumer groups say e-commerce trade deals can’t protect consumers

January 31, 2019: The Trans-Atlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD), a grand alliance of seventy-five US and EU consumer organisations, has issued a strong critical statement about the intention of 76 WTO member governments to negotiate binding rules for e-commerce that would not protect consumer rights.

A TACD background document noted that the majority of WTO member countries have not agreed to be involved in e-commerce negotiations. The statement argued that, since trade negotiations are secretive and do not comply with basic principles of democratic decision-making, far-reaching discussions around digital policies should not take place through trade agreements. The development of e-commerce has the potential to boost the competitiveness of the economy and improve consumer choice and welfare, but this is only possible if consumer trust and confidence are strengthened.

The statement made three recommendations to trade negotiators:

  • Ensure meaningful transparency and proactive engagement with legislators, stakeholders and citizens. Consumers must be able to monitor discussions, be proactively consulted and provide input;
  • Put consumers at the forefront. Provisions that ensure protections and rights for consumers could enhance consumer trust online, e.g. by ensuring product safety, proper consumer information, contractual rights information and redress options.
  • Recognize trade deals are not the appropriate fora to tackle every aspect of digital policy. Topics such as cyber security, internet of things, artificial intelligence, net neutrality or data protection are important, but this does not mean they should be addressed in the context of trade agreements – especially when domestic legislation is rapidly evolving.