The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) are fighting a last-ditch battle against European Union (EU) ecommerce laws which they say will damage UK companies.
The bodies are campaigning for the EU ecommerce directive to include the 'country of origin' principle when selling abroad, ensuring that companies can only be sued under the laws of the country in which they are based.
This would prevent UK businesses being taken to court in the UK by overseas companies under other European laws over accepted British retail practices.
Such practices would include promotions such as 'two-for-the-price-of-one', which are illegal in some European countries.
But according to industry experts, the country of origin principle will not be enshrined into UK law.
The DMA today demanded that the regulations be "amended to include a strong country of origin principle, as set out in the original EU ecommerce directive, which the Department of Trade and Industry [DTI] is seeking to implement into UK law".
It warned: "The current draft regulations could mean that UK companies which market goods and services electronically across borders within the EU would have to comply with the laws applying in the member state where the buyer lives, rather than the laws in the UK.
"This would impose a large compliance cost on small to medium sized enterprises [SMEs] and was not the intention of the directive."
James Milligan, legal and public affairs adviser at the DMA, said: "The government has already missed the official date set by the EU for the UK's implementation of the directive. It is under a lot of time pressure."
He added that SMEs "face enormous research costs trying to comply with laws in each of the 15 member states".
Jeremy Beale, head of ebusiness at the CBI, said: "The draft is as clear as mud. It's very hard to say what it means if you are not a lawyer and even lawyers are arguing about what it means.
"We want a very strong country of origin principle. It is most important for ebusiness that greater clarity is achieved."
Mike Pullen, internet lawyer at Dibb Lupton Alsop, stated: "The UK implementation of the country of origin principle is a disgrace.
"It has misunderstood the directive. If we implement it in its present form the European Court could take the UK government to court for failing to implement the directive properly."
Pullen explained that the government has seen implementation "as just a compliance obligation. There is no statement saying that UK English law is applicable to English companies."
The DTI was unable for comment.
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