Delegates speak prior to a general council meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on December 10 2019 in Geneva. Picture: AFP/FABRICE COFFRINI
Delegates speak prior to a general council meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on December 10 2019 in Geneva. Picture: AFP/FABRICE COFFRINI

Geneva — World Trade Organisation (WTO) members agreed on Tuesday to renew a 20-year moratorium on placing tariffs on digital trade for six months, allaying fears that people would have to pay duties on e-books and software for the first time.

The moratorium on digital trade worth an estimated $225bn a year has been in place since 1998, but was due to expire in December and required unanimity at the WTO for renewal.

“Members agree to maintain the current practice of not imposing customs duties on electronic transmissions until the 12th ministerial conference,” the general council’s decision said, referring to a WTO meeting in Kazakhstan in June.

The decision came after talks ran late into Monday evening, according to two trade officials.

Several countries, including India and SA, have expressed interest in lifting the moratorium as they develop their digital economies and seek to recuperate lost customs revenue as more trade becomes digital. Some said this could lead to tit-for-tat tariffs on the internet.

John Denton, secretary-general of the International Chamber of Commerce, welcomed the decision and said it indicates “the continued value of the WTO as a forum for multilateral trade policy making” after members failed to resolve a crisis at its top court on Monday.

Reuters

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