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World: U.S. Wants Internet To Be A Global Free-Trade Zone

Washington, 9 July 1997 (RFE/RL) - U.S. President Bill Clinton wants to keep the Internet a "global free-trade zone" by asking governments to refrain from taxing electronic business transactions, and encouraging private sectors around the world to develop the Internet as a commercial marketplace.

At a special ceremony at the White House last week, Clinton told an audience of mostly American computer industry executives that he would urge a global ban on "discriminatory taxes, tariffs, unnecessary regulations and cumbersome bureaucracies" that would inhibit economic growth on the Internet.

Clinton said: "One of the most significant uses of the Internet is the world of commerce ... If we establish an environment in which electronic commerce can grow and flourish, then every computer can be a window open to every business, large and small, everywhere in the world."

Clinton set out his plans in a report called "A Framework for Global Electronic Commerce" which lists the U.S.'s guiding principles for commerce on the Internet and suggests an agenda for international discussions and agreements on the topic.

As part of the international agenda, Clinton said U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky will work with the Geneva-based World Trade Organization (WTO) to garner worldwide support and build upon the Information Technology Agreement and Global Telecommunications Agreement which eliminated tariffs and reduced trade barriers on more than $1 trillion in products and services.

Clinton said: "In many ways, electronic commerce is like the Wild West of the global economy. Our task is to make sure that it's safe and stable terrain for those who wish to trade on it. And we must do so by working with other nations now, while electronic commerce is still in its infancy."

An unnamed European Union official told the Reuters news agency that while they certainly welcomed the further liberalization of world trade, the U.S. plan would have to be carefully studied to see how it could be fitted into WTO open trading rules.

But the U.S. appears serious about pressing the agenda abroad.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce William Daley is currently in Bonn, Germany attending a conference on global electronic commerce.

During a session yesterday Daley declared that the issues of open markets, privacy, free trade and rule of law must form the backbone of international electronic commerce.

Daley said: "Be assured, we will work as partners to make sure electronic commerce can move easily and reliably between nations and economies while our citizens decide how and what information flows."

Daley met with top German officials for a series of bilateral meetings in which he again stressed the importance of international cooperation in implementing the Clinton plan on electronic commerce.

Ira Magaziner, a senior White House advisor and the architect of Clinton's report, says that the President's plan is a critical step in helping the U.S. become a major player in the exploding world of electronic commerce.

"We believe within the next decade, electronic commerce potentially will become our largest area of trade for the U.S.," Magaziner said in late June in Malaysia where he was attending the annual meeting of the Internet Society, a non-profit international organization.

Magazine added he believes Internet commerce could account for 10 to 20 percent of global retail sales within a decade.

Other objectives outlined in the report include the eventual negotiation of a binding, international agreement that makes the Internet a tax and tariff free zone; the bringing of the U.S. government acquisitions process into the electronic age by the purchase of 4 million dollars worth of items on-line; and the development of sophisticated technology to protect the privacy of electronic transactions over the Internet.