Firms jittery over India’s e-transmission moratorium stand

New Delhi | Bengaluru: Big Tech companies and policy groupings, concerned over India’s stand on not renewing a World Trade Organisation (WTO) moratorium on electronic transmissions, are pushing to extend it by a further two years Discussions on the moratorium have begun from June 12.

In the absence of a uniform way to assess the value of free email services such as those provided by Google or video calls over Zoom or content over OTT platforms, countries may interpret the rules differently, leading to chaos, experts said. The Ministry of Commerce and Industry has said that India, along with South Africa, had made several joint submissions highlighting the “adverse impact” of extending the moratorium.

“India and South Africa have been making several joint submissions highlighting the adverse impact of the moratorium on developing countries and suggesting that a reconsideration of the moratorium is important for developing countries to preserve policy space for their digital advancement, to regulate imports and to generate revenue through customs duties,” the ministry said on Saturday.

Executives at Big Tech firms told ET that not extending the moratorium could be extremely problematic as there is no way to properly assess what constitutes electronic transmission — with no clear definition available. It could also adversely impact the country’s fledging outsourcing industry, they said.

“The key issue, when it is a trade policy question, is what type of transfer of information is captured? Does it go beyond streaming services into e-mail, transfer of data between companies and include voicemail and phone communication in general? That question is wide open,” Simon Evenett, professor of international trade and economic development at the University of St. Gallen, told ET.

A senior executive at a Big Tech firm said that though there have been attempts to define electronic transmissions, the discussions have not been fruitful so far. “To not renew the moratorium because there is no definition of electronic transmissions is a short-sighted move. We are not asking for this moratorium to be made permanent but only asking for an extension of two years when the next ministerial conference occurs,” the executive said.

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Another senior executive at a social media conglomerate said lifting of the moratorium could mean countries would interpret electronic transmissions differently, which would in turn lead to “a mess of understanding of who owns what intellectual property and whose rights are applicable where.”

“Different countries have different rules and regulations on how the copyright claims function. They also have different rules on how intellectual property rights are enforced internally. It will be very difficult to enforce the application of customs duty on a global level,” the executive said.

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