Electronic commerce is just another form of trading and basic legislative rules apply to it, according to Renato Ruggiero, Director General of the World Trade Organisation.
Ruggiero made the comments at a conference on e-commerce, a Global Framework for Electronic Commerce, sponsored by the German Information Technology Manufacturers Association, the main German IT trade association.
Internet sales are nothing other than the distribution of goods, which can be governed by GATT (General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade) for countries which have committed to the Agreement, said Ruggiero. "The framework is there. We must not undermine it by treating e-commerce as if it were outside the normal stream of business."
A global framework for e-commerce over the Internet will ensure stability and will assure that the benefits of the technology are widely distributed among the technology haves and have-nots, said Ruggiero.
The WTO is working to widen the number of people that have access to the global computer infrastructure, he said.
Right now, developing countries are responsible for only one half of 1% of world trade, he said. Trade over the Internet is "an escape route from this marginalisation," said Ruggiero.
All governments should intervene as little as possible in regulating the Internet, he said. "However, in the areas of consumer protection, public morals, national security, and intellectual property, governments are obliged to step in."
Additional information about the WTO, based in Geneva, and about trade issues can be obtained at http://www.wto.org/.