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India’s task force for e-commerce policy

The Department of Commerce has established a ‘think-tank’ to develop a framework for the country’s e-commerce policy, under which a task force was set up to outline recommendations for the policy. The Task Force further is divided into nine subgroups.

These subgroups will submit their recommendations to the task force, which will finalise the national policy on e-commerce. The task force then sends in its report to the think-tank, headed by the Minter of Commerce and Industry. The first meeting of these subgroups was held in June last year.

The groups explore issues related to foreign direct investment norms; skills, education and training, data protection and location of computing facilities, and cross-border transfer of information by electronic means.

The groups will also discuss digital products, customs duties and taxation, trade facilitation measures, steps to enhancing consumer confidence, the protection of intellectual property and innovation, and payment systems for electronic transactions.

In December, the Commerce Minister said that the new e-commerce policy draft will focus on several areas including the promotion of transparency of pricing and discounts and protection of the interests of both retailers and consumers. The new e-commerce regulations are expected to take effect on 1 February this year.

The draft stated that any group company of an online retailer or marketplace may not be allowed to directly or indirectly influence the price or sale of products and services on its platform, a move that could restrict e-tailers from giving deep discounts.

It suggested the introduction of a pre-set time frame for offering differential pricing or deep discounts by e-commerce players to customers.

The Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) has frequently raised concerns over heavy discounts being provided by certain online retailers.

In fact, in late 2018 the CAIT wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlighting the need for an e-commerce policy, incentives for digital payments, national policy for retail trade, besides other issues. It demanded complete overhauling of the country’s retail trade.

In the letter, the CAIT Secretary-General said that the current e-commerce is greatly vitiated by online companies by indulging into predatory pricing, deep discounting and lose funding, which is against FDI Policy 2016 Press Note No. 3 of the Government.

The CAIT said there is an urgent need of an e-commerce policy by the Government and formation of a Regulatory Authority to monitor and regulate e-commerce business in the country and to even out the playing field.

The framing of a new policy also bears significance as rich member nations of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) are pushing to develop international guidelines for e-commerce.

According to the WTO, its Work Programme deals with matters related to trade that are the result of global e-commerce. Some of these issues include the protection of privacy and public morals and prevention of fraud, access to and use of public telecommunications transport networks and services, and rules of origin.

Further, the Work Programme covers areas like increasing participation of developing countries in the e-commerce marketplace, protecting and enforcing copyright and trademarks, enhancing participation of developing countries and their small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

It also explores the economic development opportunities afforded by e-commerce for developing countries, particularly least-developed countries.

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