Ministers extend APEC online tax moratorium

Ministers representing the 21 member nations of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum (APEC) agreed Thursday to extend a moratorium on customs duties on electronic transmissions until at least next year and possibly 2003.

At their meeting in Shanghai, which came ahead of a summit of APEC leaders that took place at the weekend, the ministers reaffirmed an earlier plan to keep the tax moratorium until the Fourth WTO Ministerial Conference that is scheduled to take place in Doha, Qatar, from the 9th to the 13th of November and then agreed to extend it until the Fifth Ministerial Conference. The schedule for that meeting has not yet been set but a gap of between one and a half and two years is usual between meetings.

The ministers also gave strong backing to a number of initiatives associated with electronic commerce.

Among them was the endorsement of a plan to develop APEC-wide guidelines for online consumer protection. Support was also given to a proposal to create a forum during 2002 intended to bring together members of the public and private communities to work on online privacy issues.

In a communiqué issued at the end of their two-day meeting, the ministers also recognized the importance of a legal and policy framework for e-commerce that will simultaneous generate confidence in consumers and businesses and avoids "unnecessarily restrictive trade barriers while respecting national policy objectives" to allow e-commerce to grow.

Issues associated with electronic trading, commerce, the Internet and the digital divide are an increasingly common focus at APEC meetings alongside those of international trade. Many of APEC's members are developing nations keen to use the Internet and modern information and communications technology (ICT) to increase trade with richer members of the group and other developed nations to strengthen their own economies.

At the Shanghai Ministerial Meeting, members also approved the e-APEC plan, a blueprint intended to spur the development of ICT initiatives across the member nations in the areas of economic growth, investment and technology development and human resources.

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