At the WTO Ministerial in Buenos Aires, India is reportedly blocking moves to put in place rules for e-commerce. This is wrong. Global e-commerce rules are meant to bring more discipline to the sector, given that e-commerce trade is estimated to cross $4 trillion by 2021. But there are worries that proposals relating to infrastructure and services for information and communication technologies could infringe on the country’s sovereign rights. India must play a proactive role in framing these rules, not block their drafting.
The domestic e-commerce sector is growing at a scorching pace. Online players such as Zomato and MakeMyTrip have raised foreign capital and have the potential for global scale. Other Indian startups too have a similar potential to become global players. So, India must be fully engaged in negotiating WTO’s new rules for e-commerce, instead of distancing itself from them. The goal should be to secure maximum advantage for these companies. India also fears that new rules could provide unfair market access to foreign companies. This, in turn, could hurt domestic e-commerce platforms, and limit the government’s ability to tailor rules that serve their interests instead of policies that benefit global giants such as Amazon. A level playing field makes sense, and will encourage more competition. India also needs to have in place a robust data-protection law to ensure secure cross-border data flows to India for processing here.
The WTO represents a strong rule-based multilateral framework. India must lend its active support to strengthen the WTO and its multilateral framework that could come under attack from the protectionism in the US. Of course, India must seek a permanent agreement on public food stocks, but that does not mean spurning e-commerce.