A lack of formal regulations and policies governing e-commerce is limiting the success of the online economy, David Murray of the Commonwealth Bank has warned.
Speaking at the Australian Telecommunications User Group (Atug) conference last week, Murray said it was critical the Trade Practices Act had a "global reference" that took into account national and international boundaries.
Murray said businesses were reluctant to commit to international e-commerce contracts because the TPA and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which oversees the Act, had no policy on the formation of such contracts.
Responding to Murray's comments, ACCC chairman Allan Fels, who also addressed the conference, said the commission was not involved with the development of international e-commerce policy. Fels said the World Trade Organisation was currently working on "something of that nature".
Brendan Scott, senior lawyer and e-business specialist with Sydney law firm Gilbert & Tobin, said although e-commerce would be something the TPA would "ultimately address", the online economy was a "global arrangement".
Initially policies would have to be formulated at the "trade level", and a multilateral agreement would have to be reached before the introduction of any local regulations, Scott said. It was up to organisations such as the WTO, the World Intellectual Property Organisation, and the United Nations to formulate policies in regard to online regulations.
Since May 1998, the WTO has had a temporary ban on international e-commerce tariffs. The organisation's last attempt to discuss a broad range of online issues was spectacularly thwarted by a Web-inspired mass protest in the US in November last year.
In February, the federal government made an initial step towards the adoption of an international e-commerce treaty, signing a "joint e-commerce agreement" with Canada, which included the need to establish "a clear legal framework for the information economy and e-commerce".
One thing most countries have established is their stance on Internet tariffs. Australia, and countries such as Canada, the US, Japan, and most of Europe, are pushing to make the WTO's e-commerce tariff ban permanent.
However, developing nations from Asia and Africa want to tax what they see as their first bite at the new economic cherry.