New article identifies concern amongst developing countries about e-commerce proposals in RCEP

October 28, 2019: A new article by Rahul Nath Choudhury in the The Interpreter outlines concern, particularly amongst developing countries, about the inclusion of e-commerce provisions in trade agreements. Many developing country governments, and civil society organisations, are concerned that the e-commerce agenda is an attempt by the US to establish international rules that suit big tech companies from developed countries, locking developing countries out of the digital economy.

Choudhury argues that although at least 61 regional trade agreements now have a chapter dedicated to e-commerce, the chapters continue to be controversial with broad concern about “privacy and the cross border flow of data, server localisation, intellectual property rights, the sharing source code, among others.” He argues that the e-commerce chapter could be a stumbling block for the RCEP agreement, with reports pointing to ongoing disagreement on these provisions.

He suggests that “Indonesia and Malaysia both have domestic policy requirements to navigate” in regard to the localisation of data. India has also been a vocal opponent of e-commerce proposals and declined to join the e-commerce discussions that are taking place at the WTO. Several media report suggest India continues to resist e-commerce provisions in the RCEP.

Choudhury says that developing countries are right to be concerned about the impact of e-commerce chapters on their domestic industries, arguing that they should be “cautious about entering into an agreement of any kind with the provisions of offering duty-free digital market access.”