The WTO is working to modernize cross-border e-commerce regulations

Dozens of countries have signed on to tackle cross-border e-commerce regulations as the WTO tries to modernize trade for the 21st century.


March 6, 2019

Per Axios, consumer-facing e-commerce has become a $3.5T global market, and some $700B of those purchases occur across borders. But currently, there are almost no international rules in place.

This month, 75 nations have agreed to participate in World Trade Organization (WTO) talks on cross-border e-commerce, one of the fastest-growing and most complicated areas of global trade..

E-commerce without borders

Most existing trade agreements were written in the pre-digital era to cover the flow of goods from country-to-country in large containers through ports of entry. Problem is, international package delivery volumes have tripled since 2000.

Since then, e-commerce has released a stampede of small parcels that is overwhelming customs inspectors — and cross-border purchases are expected to hit $1T by next year.

Now, China — the world’s largest e-commerce market — the US, the EU and around half of the other WTO members are joining together to put a plan in place.

The question is, is a one-size-fits-all approach possible?

Every country has its own legal framework — in this case, a unique set of rules on what can and can’t be sold to whom. 

For instance, the exact age of legal adulthood varies by country, which immediately muddies regulations on products like food, alcohol or weapons — one of the many legal differences from country to country. 

According to research from Pitney Bowes, one of the many wrinkles to be ironed out will be figuring out a way for each country to defend its own legal rights, regardless of the country it’s selling to.

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