The conclusion of the World Trade Organization’s (“WTO”) 13th ministerial meeting (“MC13”) this past Friday, March 1st, saw the extension of the so-called e-commerce moratorium until the next ministerial conference in two years, at which point it will permanently expire unless another agreement is reached. The moratorium, which suspends customs duties on digital transmissions, was one of several issues on which WTO members struggled to find agreement. The suspension of tariffs on digital goods has been a source of tension between developing and developed nations since the moratorium’s introduction at the second WTO ministerial meeting in 1998 as a way of fostering growth in the nascent digital sector. With the explosion in growth of e-commerce and digital trade over the next 27 years, much of which comes in the form of exports from OECD member countries, the moratorium’s renewal has become increasingly contentious in WTO negotiations.

Talks on the moratorium’s extension echo those which took place at the previous ministerial conference in June of 2022, where India sought concessions on fishery and agricultural subsidies from other WTO members in exchange for the renewal of the e-commerce moratorium. Although ministers from various WTO member nations expressed their satisfaction with the moratorium’s renewal through multilateral agreement at the current conference, a group of 140 member nations signaled that they would be willing to mutually suspend tariffs on digital transmissions as part of a “joint statement initiative” should the moratorium fail to survive the next ministerial conference in 2026.

Crowell & Moring, LLP continues to monitor developments in the e-commerce and digital trade spaces and their potential impact on customers and businesses going forward.