New Zealand and other World Trade Organisation (WTO) members have confirmed intentions to launch negotiations on e-commerce.

Why do we need negotiations?

The volume of international trade in goods and services that is occurring via e-commerce continues to grow exponentially. Recent research by McKinsey (external link) estimated that cross-border data flows (used as a proxy for digital trade) grew by 45 times between 2004 and 2014 and generated $2.8 trillion in global economic revenue in 2014 alone.

Digital technology is impacting on New Zealand and the rest of the world in many different ways. It is driving the creation of new products, services and business models. It is disrupting the way that whole industries do business. It is changing how people live their lives. And it is also changing how government makes decisions and interacts with society.

These changes provide both challenges and opportunities for the global trading environment, traditional trade rules and architecture, as well as domestic policy approaches. So it’s important that international trade rules are developed to govern these areas as they evolve.

This includes finding a balance that facilitates economic growth for both individuals and businesses, while ensuring adequate safeguards for quickly evolving policy areas online, such as personal privacy, consumer protection, cyber security, customs procedures and taxation structures. 

Who is involved?

Given this importance, New Zealand, together with over 70 members at the WTO, confirmed intentions in January 2019 to launch negotiations on e-commerce. The WTO deals with the global rules of trade. Its main function is to ensure that trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible between its members. More information about why New Zealand is participating in this negotiation is set out in a Briefing to the Minister of Trade and Export Growth [PDF, 896 KB].

This announcement follows the agreement in a joint statement [PDF, 63 KB] by Ministers in December 2017 at MC11 in Buenos Aires to undertake an initiative with interested Members exploring potential elements for future negotiations on trade-related aspects of e-commerce. Throughout 2018, the Joint Statement Initiative met nine times, co-convened by Australia, Japan and Singapore with more than 117 Members participating in discussions.

Focus areas

The key focus areas of the initiative, discussed so far, include:

  • Enabling digital trade/e-commerce:
    • Customs, digital trade facilitation and logistics
    • Facilitating electronic transactions
    • Customs duties on electronic transmissions
  • Openness and digital trade/e-commerce:
    • Market access
    • Flow of information
    • Access and non-discrimination
  • Trust and digital trade/e-commerce:
    • Business trust
    • Consumer trust
    • Intellectual property
  • Cross cutting issues
    • Transparency
    • Infrastructure gaps/digital divide
    • Cooperation

Why is New Zealand getting involved?

New Zealand businesses and consumers are active users of e-commerce, from selling and buying goods (both physical and digital) via electronic platforms to providing cloud-based storage or processing services.

Digital technologies and services greatly help New Zealand to overcome the challenges posed by our small scale and distance from major markets.  Despite unprecedented growth in this market, the development of international trade rules has not kept pace. The ability to move data between jurisdictions is also increasingly crucial to businesses involved in international trade and is an inevitable feature of the modern economy.

To help drive robust international rules and provide greater certainty for New Zealand businesses and consumers online, we are a member of the Joint Statement Initiative and co-sponsored the Ministerial statement confirming intention to launch e-commerce negotiations in 2019.

What we want to achieve

We want to ensure our trade policy settings facilitate growth in this area, will contribute towards achieving the government’s economic diversification goals - as well as the transition to a low carbon economy, and protect areas of specific interest. 

A key focus of our interventions and work at the WTO has been to try to achieve an outcome that is inclusive and commercially meaningful. But also an outcome that ensures we have necessary public policy safeguards to address issues such as consumer protection and the protection of personal information in the digital environment.

Have your say

We want to hear from you, so get in touch and let us know about:

  • what New Zealand should prioritise in future WTO e-commerce negotiations
  • trade barriers you may face, or are concerned about, in trading online
  • specific industries, businesses or products that you think could benefit from an outcome on e-commerce at the WTO
  • other outcomes that will make it easier for New Zealanders to do business online
  • any concerns you or your business have with a possible WTO outcome on e-commerce or that should be reflected in New Zealand’s approach to negotiations.

Your views will inform our overall approach to the negotiations in the WTO. There will also be further opportunities to engage as negotiations get underway.

Email us at to share your views and register your interest in future engagement opportunities.

For more information on WTO e-commerce, visit the WTO website (external link).

For details on our upcoming trade policy events, see our public engagement on trade page.