May 6, 2019

New Zealand's Seat at the Global E-Commerce Table

Following on from our recent involvement with AI Day and in association with NZ Tech and FinTech NZ, we were invited by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to a roundtable discussion to provide input on their initiative to include New Zealand in the World Trade Organisation's (WTO) eCommerce negotiations. (Click here for more information on the WTO Declaration of Global eCommerce).

What is it and what does it mean for New Zealand?

The volume of international trade in goods and services that is occurring via e-commerce continues to grow exponentially. Digital tech is impacting on New Zealand and the rest of the world in many different ways. It is driving the creation of new products, services and business models. It is disrupting the way that whole industries do business. It is changing how people live their lives. And it is also changing how government makes decisions and interacts with society.

MFAT is seeking views on:

  • what New Zealand should prioritise in future WTO e-commerce negotiations
  • trade barriers you may face, or are concerned about, in trading online
  • specific industries, businesses or products that you think could benefit from an outcome on e-commerce at the WTO
  • other outcomes that will make it easier for New Zealanders to do business online
  • any concerns you or your business have with a possible WTO outcome on e-commerce or that should be reflected in New Zealand's approach to negotiations.

As legal advisors in tech, media and IP, we represent a wide range of clients who are at the forefront of the changing digital world. For New Zealand to be part of such negotiations will be instrumental in unearthing challenges and opportunities for the global trading environment, traditional trade rules and architecture, as well as domestic policy approaches. It's therefore vital that international trade rules are developed to govern these areas as they evolve.

If you would like to contribute and help shape the e-commerce agenda for New Zealand, you can contact MFAT at

Through the efforts of our innovators and with help from industry bodies like NZ Tech, New Zealand is growing its reputation as a centre of excellence for emerging tech.

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For inspiration, here is a quick run-down of the big themes that came up during our discussions with MFAT and other business executives from the e-commerce sector:

  1. Data compliance
  2. Regulation across borders
  3. Digital identity
  4. Emerging technologies

Data Compliance

GDPR has set the gold standard for data protection, which is reverberating throughout the business world and pushing data compliance up the agenda for businesses closer to home. While compliance always comes at a cost, when it comes to data the predominant view is that the benefits and opportunities of getting it right (improving customer loyalty, acting as a clear differentiator and avoiding the reputational impact of things going wrong) outweigh any financial impact. New Zealand is internationally recogonised as both a leading protector of privacy rights and a great place to do business. As data becomes the global currency, we need to work hard to maintain both elements of this reputation - and this should be top of mind for our negotiators at the WTO.

Regulation across borders

While e-commerce is inherently global, regulation is very often local, and this disconnect can result in costly compliance exercises (or significant operational risk) for e-commerce companies looking to take on the world - especially in heavily regulated areas like FinTech. If the WTO negotiations lead to further alignment around global standards for consumer protection, data privacy and tech transfer (to name a few) this would be a game changer for ambitious kiwi tech companies. What about a set of tools and common principles for global e-commerce compliance - endorsed by the WTO - which companies and their advisers could use as a starting point when embarking on international expansion?

Digital Identity

There was strong agreement in the room that a universal standard for digital identity and authentication is the key to unlocking the full potential of global e-commerce, and this needs to be near the top of the agenda for the WTO. New Zealand is already doing great work on this through Digital Identity.NZ and other public and private projects - our negotiating team would do well to plug into this expertise.

Emerging technologies

It's a truism that digital tech is moving faster than ever before. Much of the discussion at the round-table centred on the transformational impact of new technology like cloud-based platforms, AI and de-centralised networks (blockchain). Given the length and complexity of multilateral negotiations, we need to be alive to the risk that negotiated solutions can't keep up with the speed of tech change. Through the efforts of our innovators and with help from industry bodies like NZ Tech, New Zealand is growing its reputation as a centre of excellence for emerging tech. We hope the e-commerce negotiations provide a platform to enhance this further.

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