An Apec checklist for national e-commerce readiness challenges New Zealand government policy, especially in telecommunications regulation and intellectual property protection.
The Apec e-Commerce Readiness Assessment Tool has been devised by the Apec Business Advisory Council, a permanent private sector forum that advises Apec leaders and officials on issues of interest to the business sector.
Speakers at Saturday's e-commerce forum, which was attended by Treasurer Bill English, strongly promoted the checklist as a "template" for national economies to adopt in preparation for a coming boom in electronic business.
Much of the readiness assessment document concerns telecommunications as a key element of electronic commerce.
Although New Zealand fares well on many tests - including teledensity, uptake of the Internet and the openness of its telecoms market - some of the ABAC business leaders' views on competition may be difficult for the government to swallow.
In particular, the brief for ABAC's optimum telecommunications environment reads: "Clear separation between the telco operator and regulator. Regulator has the authority to enforce pre-competitive principles regarding interconnection and unbundling of network infrastructure as well as other regulatory safeguards to prevent abuse of market power."
The New Zealand model, in which there is no industry-specific regulator, no ability to enforce interconnection principles and no unbundling of network infrastructure from services appears to slip off the bottom of the readiness assessment scale.
The document, noting that "traditional voice telephony charging practices may inhibit the growth of electronic commerce", says "infrastructure charges need to be affordable to both business and individual users". It regards access to flat-rate local calling (which New Zealand residential users enjoy, thanks to the Kiwi Share) as an important element for businesses.
The ABAC recommendations follow a speech made last week to the Wellington Chamber of Commerce by Clear CEO Tim Cullinane, in which he cited studies by the OECD and the Australian Productivity Commission to support his contention that "New Zealand businesses now pay more for telecommunications services than virtually any other developed country."
New Zealand's trading partners had "without exception" taken steps to tighten regulation to promote competition and deliver market benefits, keeping themselves "moving forward, and at a much faster rate," Cullinane said.
The original draft of the recently-released 'Knowledge Economy' report also contained similar recommendations about telecommunications regulation which were excised before release of the final version.
In another section of the document, ABAC emphasises the importance of effective copyright protections "to ensure that there is enough incentive for the creation of electronic commerce content. Therefore, it is essential that countries adopt and implement the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) Treaties on copyright and related rights."
On contrast to its ahead-of-the-pack stance on trade treaties, New Zealand has not moved to ratify the 1996 WIPO Copyright Treaty, which addresses digital issues. The US has put WIPO compliance at the heart of its Digital Millennium Bill, and Australia and other countries have similar major legislation in train.
Ministry of Commerce officials at the recent Copyright Summit in Wellington said WIPO compliance had become "more of a priority" but were unable able to give any firm indication when legislation to comply with the WIPO treaty might be drafted.