E-commerce provisions important in India’s withdrawal from the RCEP

November 19, 2019: Kanksshi Agarwal, a policy and political researcher based in Delhi, has analysed the role that e-commerce provisions in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) have played in India’s decision to withdraw from the agreement.

Agarwal emphasises the importance of e-commerce for developing countries. She argues that e-commerce can help to address the global economic divide but warns that developing countries require the flexibility to develop their own regulatory frameworks, which facilitate their digital industrialisation and ensure they are not locked out of the digital economy.

However, Agarwal suggests that the leaked terms of reference for the RCEP working group on E-commerce shows that the proposed model for e-commerce in the RCEP is similar to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP-11) and would be of most benefit to China’s big tech companies rather than other developing country members of the RCEP, including India,

Agarwal suggests that disagreement between India and other RCEP countries relates to:

  • The prohibition on national requirement to mandate storage and processing of data locally
  • The Cross-border transfer of information
  • Online consumer protection and personal data protection

She points to contradictions between RCEP provisions and pending domestic legislation in India, including the 2018 Draft Personal Data Protection Bill, which if passed would mandate data localisation for e-commerce entities and service providers and the draft national e-commerce policy which could restrict cross border data flows.