In his first major speech since being appointed Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Peter Mandelson promised to make the UK Europe's "digital laboratory". Speaking at the European New Digital Economy conference in London last week, Mandelson promised that the government would take the lead. "We want 90% of central government purchases of goods to be made electronically by 2001, and 25% of government services to be available electronically by 2002," he said. The government will also take on a major role in developing an international regulatory system for Ecommerce as telecoms, broadcasting and IT infrastructures converge, Mandelson said. Issues such as intellectual property rights, the impact of Government procurement, the tax system, data protection and the legitimacy of electronic agreements would be the responsibility of government. "The potential prize is enormous, but only if we get the regulatory framework right," Mandelson told the conference. "By the end of this Parliament, I want the UK to be globally recognised as the best environment in which to trade electronically." The government plans to bring forward legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows to promote Ecommerce, he added. International consistency in the taxation of Ecommerce is essential for the effective growth of Ecommerce, according to Ira Magaziner, senior advisor to the President for development in the US. Otherwise a myriad of different taxation laws could make conventional commerce preferable to electronic commerce. Magaziner said Ecommerce taxation should reflect existing tax laws as closely as possible, and suggested a system similar to income tax, but levied at the point of consumption. Organisations such as banks or ISPs would collect this tax from consumers and transfer it to the government where the vendor was operating. However, such a system would be impractical while a substantial electronic trade encryption policy was uncertain, claimed Roel Pieper, executive vice president at Royal Philips Electronics. "The trains have already left the station," he said. Pieper favours a method of taxation relating to the degree of encryption, and levied in the vendor's own country.
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