Civil Society Support for the Moratorium on Customs Duties on Electric Transmissions

Jun 10, 2022

An open letter to WTO Trade Ministers:

As organizations representing workers, small businesses, entrepreneurs, communities, and civil society from around the world, we urge World Trade Organization (“WTO”) members to renew the Moratorium on Customs Duties on Electric Transmissions (“Moratorium”) at the 12th Ministerial Conference. Permitting the Moratorium to expire could jeopardize the privacy, intellectual property, and security of citizens, workers, and consumers globally.

Since 1998, the Moratorium has prohibited the use of “customs duties,” or tariffs, on electronic transmissions by WTO members. This pact has helped keep calls, emails, research, and the rest of the Internet safe from government surveillance, border tariffs, and highly-intrusive customs procedures.

We commend trade officials for extending the Moratorium at every Ministerial since its inception.  It has become a pillar of the modern trading system, fostering certainty and privacy, and ensuring that society benefits from digital innovation and research.

Failure to extend the Moratorium could give governments new powers to seize and inspect private digital data, stifling free speech, development, and research while enabling digital authoritarianism.

A handful of governments have already begun to explore the idea of developing new capabilities to monitor the contents of electronic transmissions by applying customs formalities to electronic transmissions. Such efforts could give governments a pretext to look through electronic transmissions crossing their borders, and encourage the use of big data mining and scraping information from electronic platforms, Internet Service Providers, and payment gateways to gain details on the nature of individual cross-border electronic transmissions.

In addition to the security and privacy risks, applying customs duties to electronic transmissions would create significant burdens and added expenses, harming consumers, workers, and businesses of all sizes. The increased administrative and financial burdens of tariffs on e-commerce transmission could discourage micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises and workers from engaging in the global marketplace, and would add costs to consumers and businesses.

Preserving the Moratorium on digital duties promotes a vibrant and inclusive global commons free of border taxes, burdensome customs procedures, and government control. It supports consumers’ ability to safely access everyday digital tools and to share information free from surveillance.

Given these benefits, we urge you to renew the Moratorium at the 12th Ministerial Conference, and strongly encourage you to consider turning the Moratorium into a permanent, clear, enforceable ban on tariffs for digital goods and services.