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Saturday, October 10, 1998 Published at 04:23 GMT 05:23 UK


Vision of Web trade emerges

The e-commerce conference could be watched live on the Web

By Internet Correspondent Chris Nuttall
Leading industrialised nations say elements of a shared vision for global electronic commerce emerged from a three-day ministerial meeting in Canada which ended on Friday.

The 29-nation Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said in a statement that participants recognised that a partnership was necessary between governments and the private sector to boost consumer confidence and acceptance of trading over the Internet.

Nearly a thousand delegates from government, business, unions and public interest groups attended the conference. It concentrated exclusively on electronic commerce, with speakers including the US Commerce Secretary William Daley and the head of the IBM corporation Louis Gerstner.

Phenomenal growth of e-commerce

E-commerce is predicted to rise from $32bn this year to a massive $300bn by 2000.

The private sector is keen that governments will not stifle this phenomenal growth with taxes and restrictions.

Mr Gerstner said IBM wanted policy makers to wait before trying to regulate the Net. He said it was no time for hasty action, not enough data were available yet on the world's emerging digital economy.

The Clinton administration is also keen not to see excessive regulation hinder American companies' lead in electronic commerce. The Commerce Secretary said there should be no new taxes on the Internet for now as they could become trade barriers.

Declarations adopted

The conference in Ottawa adopted declarations on privacy and consumer protection and ministers agreed on a programme of future work in areas such as taxation and the social impact of electronic commerce.

Business put forward its own action plan, but the chair of the conference, the Canadian minister John Manley, emphasised that its achievement had been to bring together all the relevant parties to begin putting together a global framework for electronic commerce when before there had been none.

US fears on EU privacy directive

The United States tried to play down its fears about a European Union Privacy directive which member states have to implement by October 25.

It allows personal data to flow freely between EU countries under new data protection laws but, in theory, information can be blocked to countries that do not uphold the same standards.

The Clinton administration does not want to legislate, preferring industry self-regulation. But it says millions of transactions could be lost if America is judged to be falling short of Europe's data protection standards.

Mr Daley told a news conference that progress was being made in discussions with Europe and he hoped an agreement could be reached by the deadline "so we don't see steps taken by member states."

"It's not as though on the 26th action would be taken that would have a devastating immediate impact," he added, "But we start down a hill where it is difficult to turn back."

Internet domain names problem

The heat has been taken out of another Internet dispute between Europe and the US over who will control the administration of Net addresses in future, specifically those ending in .com, .org, .net and .edu.

Europe was concerned earlier this year that America would try to dominate the Internet through such a body but its fears were eased when international representation was promised.

However, the Commerce Department on Tuesday was forced to extend by two years the contract of the private sector company, Network Solutions (NSI) which currently runs the domain name registration service.

No new body has been agreed on, although a non-profit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) looks like winning approval shortly. In any event, NSI will still be registering the top level domains for two years, although it will set up a system allowing competition by the middle of next year.

US Congress passes Net laws

The US Congress has been debating a series of Internet laws this week. The Senate passed the Internet Tax Freedom Act putting a moratorium on new taxes for the Net for three years. The president has welcomed it and is expected to sign it on Monday.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Bill was also passed by the Senate. It will apply copyright protections to all works on the Internet, including texts, artwork, music clips, video clips, and software programs.

Britain's Trade and Industry Secretary, Peter Mandelson, heads for the United States on Sunday on a six-day fact-finding mission, visiting companies in Silicon Valley to learn how the UK can best profit from electronic commerce and take advantage of what he sees as a new industrial revolution.

He told the Labour Party conference last month that the government would legislate to help make Britain e-commerce friendly and a world leader as a knowledge-based economy.

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