by S. Viscasillas

WTO Tackles International E-Commerce

May 15, 20012 mins
BPM Systems

It’s springtime in Washington, D.C., and that means humidity and political agenda-setting, especially after an election. All governmental bodies are shaping up their list of issues to address, and that spreads even to international bodies like the World Trade Organization.

The WTO met earlier this month to noodle over a set of policies that would govern international e-commerce transactions. You know, if you’re in California and you download software from India, is that download the same as buying software on a CD, and therefore subject to a tariff? Will IT service providers such as telecommunications companies be allowed to offer their services in multiple countries? Do countries have the right to restrict foreign website activity, as France did last year in forbidding Yahoo’s auction site to sell Nazi “memorabilia” to French citizens?

Sound familiar? These questions and more like them have been kicking around awhile now, while the needs of business press on. And despite the WTO’s agenda, don’t expect any definitive answers soon. It takes the WTO several years to issue new rules, says spokesman Jean-Guy Carrier.

We can’t blame only the WTO for leaving us hanging. At press time, the Bush administration hadn’t laid out a specific e-commerce trade agenda. In March, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick told the House Ways and Means Committee that the administration would actively pursue free trade policies. Such policies usually include eliminating or reducing tariffs.