75 countries launch WTO talks toward global e-commerce rules

Cecilia Malmstrom, EU’s top trade official, in a statement noted the need to ‘provide a predictable, effective and safe online environment for trade.’ (AFP)
Updated 25 January 2019
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75 countries launch WTO talks toward global e-commerce rules

  • The talks are to include the US and China, the world’s biggest economies

DAVOS, Switzerland: Ministers from 75 countries launched talks toward drawing up global e-commerce rules amid growing calls for technology to be more closely regulated internationally.

The talks were announced by the EU’s top trade official, Cecilia Malmstrom, on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, and are to include the US and China, the world’s biggest economies.

The launch of the negotiations at the World Trade Organization is a rare win for international cooperation, with Beijing and Washington locked in a trade war and repeated threats to multilateralism by US President Donald Trump.

Trump has specifically blasted the WTO for slighting US trade interests to the benefit of China.

Malmstrom in a tweet hailed a “historical morning in Davos” that showed that the WTO “can take on challenges of the 21st century.”

“Electronic commerce is a reality in most corners of the world, so we owe it to our citizens and companies to provide a predictable, effective and safe online environment for trade,” Malmstrom said.

The talks will formally begin in March and will seek to achieve an internationally-agreed framework “to make it easier and safer to buy, sell and do business online,” the statement said.

“The launch of these negotiations shows the WTO stays in the center of international rule making,” it added.

The talks follow an address on Wednesday by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who called on multilateral bodies — such as the WTO — to gain oversight of the digital world.


Italy endorses China’s Belt and Road plan in first for a G7 nation

Updated 24 March 2019
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Italy endorses China’s Belt and Road plan in first for a G7 nation

ROME: Italy endorsed China’s ambitious “Belt and Road” infrastructure plan on Saturday, becoming the first major Western power to back the initiative to help revive the struggling Italian economy.
Saturday’s signing ceremony was the highlight of a three-day trip to Italy by Chinese President Xi Jinping, with the two nations boosting their ties at a time when the United States is locked in a trade war with China.
The rapprochement has angered Washington and alarmed some European Union allies, who fear it could see Beijing gain access to sensitive technologies and critical transport hubs.
Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio played down such concerns, telling reporters that although Rome remained fully committed to its Western partners, it had to put Italy first when it came to commercial ties.
“This is a very important day for us, a day when Made-in-Italy has won, Italy has won and Italian companies have won,” said Di Maio, who signed the memorandum of understanding on behalf of the Italian government in a Renaissance villa.
Taking advantage of Xi’s visit, Italian firms inked deals with Chinese counterparts worth an initial 2.5 billion euros ($2.8 billion). Di Maio said these contracts had a potential, future value of 20 billion euros.
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) lies at the heart of China’s foreign policy strategy and was incorporated into the ruling Communist Party constitution in 2017, reflecting Xi’s desire for his country to take a global leadership role.
The United States worries that it is designed to strengthen China’s military influence and could be used to spread technologies capable of spying on Western interests.
WARM WELCOME
Italy’s populist government, anxious to lift the economy out of its third recession in a decade, dismissed calls from Washington to shun the BRI and gave Xi the sort of red-carpet welcome normally reserved for its closest allies.
Some EU leaders also cautioned Italy this week against rushing into the arms of China, with French President Emmanuel Macron saying on Friday that relations with Beijing must not be based primarily on trade.
There was not even universal backing for the BRI agreement within Italy’s ruling coalition, with Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, who heads the far-right League, warning against the risk of China “colonialising” Italian markets.
Salvini did not meet Xi and declined to attend a state dinner held in honor of the visiting leader on Friday.
Di Maio, who leads the 5-Star Movement, says Italy is merely playing catch up, pointing to the fact that it exports significantly less to China than either Germany or France.
Italy registered a trade deficit with China of 17.6 billion euros last year and Di Maio said the aim was to eliminate the deficit as soon as possible.
After talks with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Di Maio in the morning, Xi flew to the Sicilian city Palermo for a private visit on Saturday afternoon.
He is due to head to Monte Carlo on Sunday before finishing his brief tour of Europe in France, where he is due to hold talks with Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.