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

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.


Oil falls below $57 on virus impact and OPEC+ delay

Updated 19 February 2020

Oil falls below $57 on virus impact and OPEC+ delay

  • Contagion ‘is spooking market players,’ analysts say after Asian shares fall and Apple issues warning

LONDON: Oil fell below $57 a barrel on Tuesday, pressured by concerns over the impact on crude demand from the coronavirus outbreak in China and a lack of further action by OPEC and its allies to support the market.

Forecasters including the International Energy Agency (IEA) have cut 2020 oil demand estimates because of the virus. Though new cases in mainland China have dipped, global experts say it is too early to judge if the outbreak is being contained.

Brent crude was down 82 cents at $56.85 a barrel in mid-afternoon trade after rallying in the previous five sessions. US West Texas Intermediate crude fell 70 cents to $51.35.

“Risk aversion has returned to the markets,” said Commerzbank analyst Carsten Fritsch.

“OPEC+ has shown no sign yet of reacting to the virus-related slump in demand by making additional production cuts.”

The virus is having a wider impact on companies and financial markets. Asian shares fell and Wall Street was poised to retreat on Tuesday after Apple said it would miss quarterly revenue guidance owing to weakened demand in China.

“This has spooked market players and triggered a sharp pullback in risk assets,” said Tamas Varga of oil broker PVM.

The IEA last week said that first-quarter oil demand is likely to fall by 435,000 barrels per day (bpd) from the same period last year in the first quarterly decline since the financial crisis in 2009.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies, including Russia, have been considering further production cuts to tighten supply and support prices.

The group, known as OPEC+, has a pact to cut oil output by 1.7 million bpd until the end of March.

The next OPEC+ meeting next month is set to consider an advisory panel’s recommendation to cut supply by a further 600,000 bpd. Talks on holding an earlier meeting in February appear to have made no progress, OPEC sources said.

As well as OPEC+ voluntary curbs, support for prices has come from involuntary losses in Libya, where output has collapsed since Jan. 18 because of a blockade of ports and oilfields.