International E-commerce and Information Infrastructure Policies Conference
Internews Network awarded a $60,000 pilot project sub-grant to the Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute for Private Enterprise to convene a workshop on International E-commerce and Information Infrastructure Policies 12-14 November, Hanoi, Vietnam.
The workshop encouraged Vietnamese enterprises to engage in global e-commerce and prepare for international e-commerce policy decision related to trade negotiations. The presentations provided an overview of the international frameworks for e-commerce and telecommunications regulation, and the practical issues that affect e-commerce transactions. This activity supports the ongoing USAID-funded Support for Trade AcceleRation (STAR Project), which works to promote free trade in Vietnam.
Local organization and technical support were provided by the Vietnamese Government Interministerial Committee on Information and Communications Technology, and a private entity, VietSoftware, Inc.
Kenan Institute provided expert speakers providing presentations: Mr. William Garrison, Mr. Russell Pipe, Mr. Kevin Hartmann, and Ms. Laurie Sherman. Other speakers included Dr. Montri Chulavatnatol (Kenan Institute-Asia), Mr. Demetrios Marantis (U.S. Vietnam Trade Council), Mr. Eric Johnson (Internews-Europe) and Hank Baker (STAR Project).
The conference was opened by the U.S. Ambassador and the Vice-Minister of the Vietnamese Ministry of Science and Technology.
WTO Agreements and Obligations
The first day of the workshop was attended by over 200 representatives from the Vietnamese government. Kenan Institute speakers described the relevant World Trade Organization (WTO) agreements and the obligations created by those agreements.
These presentations included the General Agreement on Trade in Services, the Annex of Telecommunications, the Agreement on Basic Telecom Services and the Reference Paper. Ms. Sherman explained the meaning of the obligations, providing examples of Most Favored Nation treatment, national treatment, market access and relevant regulatory principles.
Mr. Baker described the intellectual property obligations of the WTO and U.S.-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement (BTA), and Mr. Pipe discussed the e-commerce program of the WTO.
Implementing Trade Agreements
The second day focused on technical aspects of implementing the trade agreements, with about 60 government and private sector individuals, actively participating in discussions. E-commerce issues such as privacy and security of e-commerce transactions, consumer protection, actions to protect against fraud, dispute resolution, taxation, contract formation, jurisdiction and transparency were addressed by Mr. Hartmann and Mr. Pipe.
Principles for taxing Internet transactions, such as neutrality, simplicity and equality were also discussed. The elements of contract formation in electronic contracts, and the need for legislation to consider electronic contracts on the same footing as traditional contracts were examined.
Discussions centered on the telecommunications policy reforms needed to create an e-commerce flourishing environment, including independent regulation, a viable licensing and regulatory system, and universal access to telecommunications services (and ways to support universal access other than by cross-subsidies).
Legal and Regulatory Issues of the Bilateral Trade Agreement
The third day was a separate workshop, "Info-Communications, Legal and Regulatory Issues in the Implementation of the BTA," for Vietnamese Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) officials. Kenan organized this one-day workshop for approximately 120 participants with the advice and guidance of the MPT and the STAR Project. The audience included MPT officials from the central government, provincial government officials, the Vietnam telecom monopoly, and private companies interested in entering the market to provide enhanced services.
Mr. Marantis provided an overview of the BTA's relationship to the telecommunications sector. Mr. Garrison and Ms. Sherman discussed telecommunications regulatory issues crucial to developing a competitive market, including licensing, transparency, certainty, and timeliness. Universal access issues were explored, including funding mechanisms and the importance of competitive neutrality. The policy implications of interconnection regimes and their importance in supporting a competitive market were addressed in relation to the regulation of interconnection pricing. The role of tariffing, needed only when the telecommunications market is not competitive, was also examined. Radio spectrum frequency allocation alternatives were outlined and analyzed, focusing again on the need for transparency, certainty and timeliness.
Immediate follow-on activities are being undertaken by the STAR Project. Internews Europe will begin an European Union-funded project on the Internet in Vietnam once matching funds are finalized.
Internews was awarded the dot-GOV Leader Award No. GDG-A-00-01-00009-00 on 21 September, 2001.