Online economy needs direction: CBA chief

The lack of formal regulations and policies governing ecommerce is limiting the success of the online economy, Commonwealth Bank managing director David Murray said yesterday.

Speaking at the Australian Telecommunications User Group (ATUG) conference, Murray said it was critical that the Trade Practices Act (TPA) had a "global reference" that took into account national and international boundaries.

Murray said businesses were reluctant to commit to international ecommerce 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 ecommerce policy. Fels said the World Trade Organisation was currently working on "something of that nature".

Brendan Scott, senior lawyer and ebusiness specialist with Sydney law firm Gilbert & Tobin, said that although ecommerce would be something the TPA would "ultimately address", the online economy was a "global arrangement".

Scott said initially policies would have to be formulated at the "trade level", and a multi-lateral agreement would have to be reached before the introduction of any local regulations. He said it was up to organisations such as the WTO, the World Intellectual Property Organisation, and the United Nations to formulate policies regarding to online regulations.

Since May 1998, the WTO has had a temporary ban on international ecommerce tariffs. The organisation's last attempt to discuss a broad range of online issues was spectacularly thwarted by a web-inspired mass protest in Seattle in November last year.

In February, the federal government made an initial step towards the adoption of an international ecommerce treaty, signing a "joint ecommerce agreement" with Canada, which included the need to establish "a clear legal framework for the information economy and ecommerce".

One thing most countries have established is their stance on net tariffs. Australia, and countries such as Canada, the US, Japan, and a majority of Europe, are pushing to make the WTO's ecommerce 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.

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More about ATUGAustralian Competition and Consumer CommissionAustralian Competition and Consumer CommissionCherryCommonwealth Bank of AustraliaCommonwealth Bank of AustraliaGilbert & TobinGilbert & TobinTelecommunications User GroupUnited NationsWorld Trade OrganisationWTO

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