Finance ministers from the world's seven major industrial economies agreed on Saturday to promote the use of information technology because of its potential to increase economic growth and employment.
The ministers also emphasised, in a report released at the end of a one-day meeting in Fukuoka, western Japan, the importance of developing a structural policy that enables the private sector to make the most of information technology while ensuring businesses and consumers are protected by applicable laws and that transactions are fairly taxed.
Among the policies the ministers said are necessary for the spread of IT: the removal of regulatory barriers to enable competition in key IT sectors, the retraining of workers, competition policies to ensure the spread of IT and fair competition and the need for an open international trade system.
In the regulatory area the ministers presented a number of areas in which work needs to be done and emphasised the importance of any changes in regulations to be technology-neutral and to not inhibit private-sector innovation, the report said.
For customers, the need for a secure electronic infrastructure was highlighted, and the ministers called for the use of encryption and electronic signatures in transactions and the development of systems to combat computer hacking. It is also important, said the ministers, that customers' rights and consumer protection are equal online to those that exist in the real world and current regulations on issues such as information disclosure and dispute resolution apply to electronic transactions.
In the area of electronic commerce, they agreed such services presented a number of challenges for the current tax system, according to the report. The delivery of electronic goods, such as music and information, is one such challenge, as is cross-border electronic commerce and the removal of the middleman in many transactions, which makes monitoring transactions more difficult.
Referring to an Organisation for Economic Development (OECD) report on e-commerce taxation, published in October 1998, the ministers agreed on the need for a taxation system that both meets the needs of governments to collect taxes and does not present an unnecessary burden that may inhibit the spread of electronic commerce and IT.
The finance ministers' meeting, which is one of several being held in the run-up to the G8 Heads of State and Government Summit, brought together Japan's Kiichi Miyazawa, France's Laurent Fabius, Lawrence Summers from the US, the UK's Gordon Brown, Germany's Hans Eichel, Italy's Vincenzo Visco, Canada's Paul Martin, and Pedro Solbes Mira, a member of the European Commission for Economic & Monetary Affairs.
The full text of the report can be found online at http://www.g8kyushu-okinawa.go.jp/e/documents/arc.pdf.
The official site of the G8 Kyuhusu/Okinawa Summit is http://www.g8kyushu-okinawa.go.jp/.