India and Cuba resisted pressure from other members – mostly developed nations - at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to start negotiations on e-commerce rules, stating that the digital divide is so great and the world is not yet ready to ink common global trade rules in areas such as e-commerce.
South Africa also extended support to India's stance with its trade minister saying that with just 5 countries controlling 75 per cent of cross-border e-commerce, developing countries are not yet in a stage to sign trade rules in this area.
Australia, the EU, Norway and China have stepped up a campaign to include e-commerce in the agenda for the year-end ministerial meeting of the WTO in Buenos Aires.
The move is aimed at improving market access for those goods that finds no use in developed countries and even developing countries have joined the bandwagon in a bid to push the market access agenda.
''There is a pressure from both developed and developing countries to bring e-commerce formally in the agenda of the WTO negotiations,'' officials said, adding that New Delhi is reaching out to countries that share its opposition to the move.
At a recent meeting of the WTO's goods council, India and Cuba took the stand that it was premature to discuss multilateral rule-making in an area like e-commerce.
However, several other members such as Australia, Switzerland, Norway, Brazil and Argentina, said that an agreement on e-commerce was necessary for the WTO to demonstrate its continued relevance.
India's opposition is not merely to setting e-commerce rules prematurely, but also because members could try to include a lot of aspects into it, including market access.
Cuba particularly took issue with suggestions to negotiate liberalisation and market access in e-commerce and emphasised that there was no basis for doing so.
Electronic commerce was made a part of the WTO in 1998, but in a limited way. Members had agreed to give a temporary moratorium on import duties on digital transmissions. This moratorium is extended every two years. It was also decided to hold discussions on various aspects of e-commerce, but there was no understanding on negotiating rules.
Any move to allow foreign investment in e-commerce sector in India is extremely sensitive as it would open flood gates for foreign goods and saturate the country's markets with imports.
The African countries and the least developed countries (LDCs) have not opposed discussions on e-commerce, but they insist that the focus be on the development dimension.
Uganda, on behalf of the LDC Group, said that most of the proposals on the table fall outside the scope of the work programme on e-commerce, and that development should be the focus of e-commerce talks. South Africa, speaking on behalf of the African Group, said it would like the Goods Council to take up issues that place the needs of developing countries and LDCs at its core