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Multilateral and regional cooperation on digital trade rules and agreements in Asia-Pacific

Rules on digital trade are rapidly taking shape as countries in Asia-Pacific and beyond strive to secure the benefits associated with e-commerce and the digitalization of trade in goods and services. At the multilateral level, the WTO holds promise to reach a plurilateral agreement on core e-commerce issues by the end of 2023. Although far-reaching outcome seems unlikely, e-commerce rules agreed in the WTO will potentially serve as baseline commitments on cooperation in digital trade. At the regional level, different approaches have emerged, and many preferential trade agreements (PTAs) already include increasingly comprehensive and advanced digital trade provisions (DTPs) and the number of Digital Economy Agreements (DEAs) is growing. Asia-Pacific economies are unevenly engaged in cooperation in digital trade rulemaking – East and South-East Asia economies have welcomed DTPs in their agreements and are taking the lead in developing DEAs, while Central Asia and South Asia economies are lagging especially in intra-regional cooperation within the subregions. The proliferation of DTPs reflects the expanding and deepening cooperation, it may, however, undermine the benefits of digital trade if the rules are not harmonized. The landscape is getting clearer as there is an emerging coherence in the coverage of DTPs across agreements. Nevertheless, further reducing regulatory heterogeneity will be important in enabling the effective participation of smaller firms and less developed countries in cross-border digital trade. 

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