Global policies must be put in place to ensure electronic commerce is not stalled by national politics, claims an expert from the G8 group of major industrial nations.
In a keynote speech at the Business Online conference in Amsterdam, James Johnson, a member of the G8 Electronic Commerce Commitee, said: "We have to face it that ecommerce is one thing nations can?t control for themselves."
He stressed the need for global organisations such as The World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to direct the progress of ecommerce.
Otherwise, serious barriers to globalisation can arise when one nation has progressed further than others in ecommerce. Johnson stressed that: "We need more than just points of light, when there is progress in one area and then off-track activities in another nation." For instance, he said, Germany recognises the authenticity of digital signatures but other countries are insisting on a treaty before they will do so.
The same is true of the banking world where private banks are very open to the idea of ?e-money? and electronic payment systems but central banks appear to be in denial.
The G8 Electronic Commerce Committee has lobbied banking establishments but the main fear remains security. "The banking world, as a critical infrastructure, is scared of being brought to its knees by a hacker," Johnson explained. "Governments need to be told how to deal with these issues. There is a need to advocate ecommerce."
Johnson explained how the WTO is working to open up the boundaries of international trade and opposed those calling for duties to be imposed on goods traded on the Internet. He said: "No country should charge for electronic transmission, this is necessary to preserve an open market." The US has recently softened its stance on this issue and wants international ecommerce to work like duty-free goods.
As a first step towards universal ecommerce, the WTO is working to open up the telecomms markets in the 70 countries that together produce over 90 per cent of the world?s telecomms business - thus providing an open infrastructure for the Internet. The organisation expects that deregulation in telecomms will stimulate private direct foreign investment, expansion of new technologies and the growth of ecommerce.
The OECD is also a key body in addressing the myriad issues under the wide umbrella of ecommerce, including electronic payment systems, banking issues, security, privacy, encryption, taxation and legal harmonisation. All these are potential barriers to rapid development of ecommerce.
But lack of harmony between different countries remains the key barrier hindering true globalisation of the Internet. For example, Johnson cited the whole of Africa as making great progress in accepting ecommerce, but he admitted that "this kind of grass roots progress can only go so far" and needs government and international direction to flourish.
He is hopeful, though, of progress in regions that we might not immediately associate with ecommerce. In some areas of Latin America few people have telephones or fridges but every home has a television, and this continent is expected to embrace ecommerce rapidly.
"The opportunity is with the convergence of technology to suit the consumer," Johnson said, speaking of the next few years when the PC will no longer be the prominent device for Internet access.
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