Senators Mull Ways To Bust Global E-Commerce Barriers

U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-Connecticut) is urging government leaders to tread cautiously when regulating e-commerce, in order to avoid creating new stumbling blocks that would hinder growth in the volume of international business conducted via the Net.

Lieberman and Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-California) unveiled a set of e-commerce principles Thursday that were prepared by the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI), a think tank tied to Congressional Democrats.

The senators also sent letters to President George W. Bush, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, and their congressional colleagues, arguing for a consistent approach to international e-commerce regulation.

“The Internet allows for buyers and sellers from different countries to meet and do business to an unprecedented degree,” Lieberman and Tausher said in their letter to the president. “But because the technology is so new, the legal questions created by cross-border business-to-consumer transactions are very much undecided.”

Digital Curtain

The PPI report, “A Third Way Framework for Global E-Commerce,” warns that unless an e-commerce regulatory system is developed that lessens the obstacles to international trade in the delivery of goods and services, while maintaining consumer confidence, international commerce on the Internet could come to a standstill.

“The Internet is revolutionizing trade by connecting sellers and buyers in different countries directly,” said Robert Atkinson, Director of the Technology and New Economy Project at PPI. “But if consumers are wary of venturing into foreign cyberspaces or businesses are burdened by conflicting national laws, we risk the creation of a digital iron curtain which may balkanize the Internet, causing the World Wide Web to become Numerous National Nets.”

The PPI said that to preserve the cross-border nature of cyberspace and promote its growth, government policymakers must address two essential questions: whose laws govern cross-border transactions and how much domestic control over access to the global Internet must be relinquished in order to promote global e-commerce.

Global Change

The best way to develop an atmosphere conducive to e-commerce, according to the PPI, is through a combination of government action and the development of new private institutions. The framework advocated by the PPI is based on six key principles:

  • Take a cautious approach that allows global e-commerce time to develop before determining which areas will require government action.
  • Increase global market access to maximize opportunities for buyers and sellers to come together.
  • Avoid regulations used for protectionism. According to the PPI, signatories to World Trade Organization (WTO) and other multilateral trade agreements should not be allowed to impose rules on e-commerce or the Internet with the intent of reducing online foreign competition.
  • Enforce regulations domestically, but allow governments to exercise authority over someone in another country if that person or organization “reaches in” to consumers within the government’s jurisdiction.
  • Apply restrictions on social, cultural and political content domestically, and ensure that such controls do not apply to trade.
  • Encourage innovation in industry practices and the development of technological tools that help alleviate the desire for strict government controls.

The PPI concluded that following these principles “will ensure that the World Wide Web will remain truly global.”

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