A blog post from James Ting-Edwards, Issues Advisor at InternetNZ
17 June 2016

ASEAN members' flags in Jakarta

Every time you click “buy” online, you are trusting people to take your money, send what you’ve ordered, and protect your information along the way. The ability to buy and sell online is huge for the Internet, and that means trade agreements are pretty important too.

RCEP is a trade agreement which New Zealand is currently negotiating with other countries - the “Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership”. It’s a big (potential) deal, involving 3 billion people, who currently purchase about 55% of New Zealand’s physical goods exports. The Internet is now kind of a big deal for business, so RCEP-type trade negotiations are increasingly considering rules and expectations for what happens online.

This week, with RCEP negotiations in Auckland, InternetNZ took the chance to invite delegates to a side-event discussing “E-Commerce” rules. We got a great turnout - 55 delegates, including representatives of India, China, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Australia, and New Zealand’s own MFAT team. We see side events like this as a way to share thoughts and concerns that otherwise might be missed. The mix of technical, legal, economic, and social factors makes Internet issues complicated, so it’s particularly important that a wide range of views and concerns are fed into setting relevant rules.

Our four presenters covered a range of perspectives, emphasising the benefits of, and some potential risks to innovative online business:

  • Getting paid is pretty important for doing business. Deborah Elms from the Asian Trade Centre spoke about the need for better and easier payment systems to make life easier for small exporting businesses.
  • Technology is not just one sector of the economy. Graeme Muller of NZTech spoke about the importance of technology change as an enabler across New Zealand’s economy.
  • Copyright rules are a key constraint on what is possible online. Melanie Johnson of the University of Auckland spoke about the need for balance and flexibility in copyright. This flexibility would support innovative projects like a free online course using short music clips to teach critical thinking, which has been stalled by licensing processes.
  • Trust is vital to enabling online business. James Ting-Edwards (that’s me) talked about the key things a consumer needs before clicking “buy” online: trust in the payment system, trust that the product will turn up as advertised, and trust that our information will be protected.

Discussion identified some things that would make it easier or harder for new businesses to set up and deliver to consumers. We’ve seen the Internet take off as a place for business because it’s open, and because legal liability has been reasonably limited by safe harbours on copyright and so on. Business is not the only important thing online, but it's one important thing, and rules for business have flow-on effects for everything else on the Internet.

We’re grateful to the delegates who joined us yesterday, who shared their time, attention, and thoughts. We’ve had positive experiences with similar side-events around the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which helped to improve some of the more Internet-unfriendly draft provisions. InternetNZ will continue to keep an eye on these trade agreements relating to the Internet. Where possible, we’ll host similar forums to broaden the conversation, improve understanding of the Internet’s value, and hopefully get better outcomes for our Internet Community.

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