Indian draft National e-Commerce Policy breaks new ground

Wednesday, February 27, 2019: Rich countries including Australia decided at the recent World Economic Forum meeting at Davos to push for an E-Commerce Agreement in the World Trade Organisation. Their formula is for ‘free digital trade’, for rules that suit global digital corporations – notably Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple. This push has been strongly criticised by consumer and civil society groups.

The Indian government has now published for comment a draft National e-Commerce Policy which aims to maximise Indian economic development while protecting the privacy and rights of individual Indian citizens. This policy has emerged against strong pressure from the global digital giants, and directly confronts their initiative at Davos.

The draft asserts that we are already in the Fourth Industrial Revolution where data is itself ‘capital’, data is a powerful resource like oil, and so data, while belonging to individuals whose rights must be protected, is also a collective asset for national development. And India, having a population of 1.35 billion, should be a data super power.

Hence the abuse of data is a major threat to the privacy of users, fair competition in the market, rights of marginalized sections of society, sustainability of Micro Small and Medium Enterprises and start-ups and regulatory space and security of countries.

The National e-Commerce Policy would limit foreign investors to only creating e-commerce platforms, not owning the goods and services sold on them.

It would restrict the export of data generated by devices installed in public space, and data generated by users in India by various sources, including e-commerce platforms, social media, search engines etc.

It would restrict the use of Indian data stored abroad by a company.

It would greatly integrate the government agencies of Customs, the Reserve Bank and India Post to ensure that customs duties continue to be levied on imports generated by e-commerce, a provision that directly confronts the Davos initiative.

It would also intensify government support for e-commerce infrastructure in India itself, so that cloud storage and fibre-optic networks could connect the entire country including remote areas, and enable more development of Indian software and Artificial Intelligence capacities.

It also proposes firm action against sale of counterfeit and pirated goods through e-commerce.