E-commerce products under the World Trade Organization agreements: goods, services, both or neither?

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Farrokhnia, F & Richards, C 2016, 'E-commerce products under the World Trade Organization agreements: goods, services, both or neither?', Journal of World Trade, vol. 50, no. 5, pp. 793-817.

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E-commerce is becoming an increasingly important focus of the international trade. Dealing with the virtual nature of e-commerce to create a borderless global economy requires the involvement of the World Trade Organization (WTO) as the only international organization regulating global trade between nations. However, the WTO has struggled in its efforts to address the various uncertainties of classification applied to e-commerce products (hereinafter ‘Classification’) under its existing Agreements (e.g. General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS)). This article investigates how a comprehensive approach is needed to address foundational Classification challenges. Using the key tools of the grounded theory method, this article analyses all the WTO Members’ discussions (1998–2014) related to the Classification issue. It does so as a basis for critiquing the WTO’s approach to addressing this challenge. It argues e-commerce products are both or neither goods or services. Extending the territorial and geographical notions created for traditional trade to the virtual nature of digital world is simply inadequate and fails to appropriately draw a certain line between traditional trade and existing as well as emerging e-commerce products. On this basis this article provides an outline of the distinct and more integrated approach needed.

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