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India mulls a national e-commerce policy

India is currently considering the drafting of a comprehensive national e-commerce policy in order to develop an ecosystem which would support exports and help in the protection of consumer interests. However, the country is of the opinion that by starting negotiations on World Trade Organization rules in e-commerce would be premature as it is unclear as to how they would benefit developing nations, including its consumers and companies.

Sudhanshu Pandey, Joint Secretary of Ministry of Commerce and Industry mentioned that several countries were enthusiastic about the negotiations of multilateral rules in order to govern international trade through e-commerce. He also mentioned that the rules could also hurt the interests of many developing nations including India. India needed the time to study whether it was prepared to take over obligations which would bind its stakeholders to an international policy in an evolving sector like e-commerce.

He mentioned that the Ministry of Commerce and Industry was looking into the development of a paper on e-commerce which will soon be put up in public domain for the comments and debates. The inputs received will form the basis for the national e-commerce policy. About 24 papers have been submitted to the World Trade Organization for the purpose of rulemaking on e-commerce. India will also engage in discussions with other developing nations for this issue for support for the stance.

The global e-commerce market was estimated at $25 trillion out of which the trans-border component was a meager 5%, which means the remaining 95% was domestic e-commerce trade. The Indian e-commerce market is just $30 billion in size and national rulemaking for the same was a daunting task due to the multiple issues involved. Thus, the different arms of the Centre were trying to address the issues related to their domain in order to help in the formulation of a national e-commerce policy.

Although there are many challenges in starting negotiations for an international policy, but the key areas that the country needs to look into are transfer of technology, data flows, server and data localization and mandatory sharing of telecom infrastructure. Many nations were in the favor of continuing the Work Programme on E-commerce which was approved in 1998. India needs to maintain a harmonized approach at the World Trade Organization while balancing its interests.

For any country, development of a national e-commerce policy will require the consideration of every aspect that involves e-commerce. In addition, the policy will have to benefit the interests of the country and should be easy to implement. The country is taking its time to develop a policy and put the best interests of the users ahead of it.  

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