The Ministry of Commerce held a virtual conference on e-Commerce on 28 May 2020 and explained the planning of the e-Commerce Guidelines that will be issued later in the year. A topic the public is keeping an eye out for is the Voluntary Registration System for online shops that will be included in the e-Commerce Guidelines.
The following is a detailed interview with U Nyi Nyi Aung, Director of the Trade Department, on the topics discussed and progress made at the virtual conference.
Q: Could you tell us what transpired at the e-Commerce virtual conference with the Ministry of Commerce?
A: The COVID-19 Economic Relief Plan (CERP) issued on 27 April contains 5 action plans for e-Commerce in its 5th Goal. The Ministry of Commerce is assigned as the focal ministry to implement them in a short period of time.
Everyone knows there are many interconnected processes in an ecosystem and e-Commerce is also a private sector-led development. We discussed the tasks in CERP and held a government-private sector dialogue to show the government’s political willingness.
The meeting was held virtually during a time where social distancing measures are enforced but the conference was able to have a lot of people participate so I believe it was quite effective. The ministry took responsibility in organizing the virtual conference. There were 28 representatives of government departments, private businesses and experts and 450 spectators.
Q: You mentioned about the e-Commerce Guidelines in the conference. Can you tell us a bit more about what is in the guidelines and when they might be finished?
A: Back in February, an e-Commerce Task Force led by the Director-General of the Trade Department and composed of 17 department representatives were able to visit Japan and observe that nation’s e-Commerce Legal Legislation and its related processes. METI supported the visit while AOTS organized it.
Japan doesn’t have separate e-Commerce Laws in itself but manages electronic trade and business with existing laws such as the Premiums and Representation Act, Personal Information Protection Act, Electronic Contract Act, Specified Commercial Transactions Act, Antimonopoly Act, Unauthorized Computer Access Act, and the Consumer Contract Act.
But they did publish the Guideline on Electronic Commerce to interpret the various provisions of those laws in an e-Commerce setting.
Myanmar is currently at the drafting stage for an e-Commerce Law. We need to first set up policies that encourage e-Commerce activities and protect the consumers. It’s important to do so now, which is why the guidelines were swiftly drafted to collectively manage policies under existing laws and represent other sectors that do not have such legal protection yet.
But that guideline will be kept as a live document so that it can be amended to reflect current changes.
Q: What stage are you at drawing the guidelines and what does it have in it so far?
A: In drawing the e-Commerce Guidelines we consider the elements we’re currently negotiating with the Word Trade Organization and we’re also making sure we don’t oppose the e-Commerce Guidelines of ASEAN and its related agreements, unintentionally or not. We’re basing them on the current path forward that the nation has adopted and looking at it from just a multitude of different sector-wise perspectives.
The Ministry of Commerce pays attention to public-private consultations and we want to ensure all stakeholders are included in the planning process of the e-Commerce Guidelines. So, to make that all inclusivity work out, we invite departments in that system, businesses and organizations to provide us with feedback, recommendations and just general advice.
A draft of the guideline was sent to all participants on 8 May and to the Payment Industry in the third week of May. We are currently sorting through the feedback and will continue preparing the guideline with the International e-Commerce Lawyer. We will then send out the drafts again and go through the process of consultations, amendments, and submitting it to higher departments for approval and consideration.
We’re aiming to publish the guidelines before the end of the year. By then, it will contain citations, objectives, interpretations, legalities, judicial rights, future preparations, related laws and rules, duties of e-Commerce businesses and buying and selling, contracts, e-Commerce consumer protection, matters relating to deceiving and misleading consumers, delivery, refunding, compensation, market discovery, anti-spam, information awareness, identity protection, IPR and platform responsibility.
One thing the public will be keeping an eye out for is the Voluntary Registration System.
Q: Can you go into more detail about that?
A: Electronic businesses like online shops don’t have less formal marketplaces and platforms in Myanmar. The vast majority operate on social media, such as Facebook. The Ministry of Commerce aims to increase trust between the buyers and sellers by increasing selling through marketplaces and platforms and that is what voluntary registration of online shops is setting to do.
The general requirements for registration are the business needs to be registered according to the Myanmar Companies Law (2017), have legal domain names or sub-domain names such as (https.com) or (.com.mm) for the online shop, be based within the country while providing services or selling products online, and having the permission of relevant departments for the products or services you are offering.
We’re trying to make the registration process completely online and there will be no registration fees.
We’re aiming to register marketplaces first and will discuss with other departments and organizations for registrering the online payment services, delivery services, and social commerce offered on social media.
This registration system will build further trust between online businesses and consumers. It will also allow disputes to be settled in a fair and legal setting. We believe we’ll be able to attract informal social commerce businesses into registered marketplaces.
Q: What have you been cooperating on with developmental organizations for the e-Commerce ecosystem?
A: The Ministry of Commerce collaborated with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) to conduct a survey in 2017 on the readiness of electronic-based businesses.
A donor roundtable was held in 2018 to implement the findings and we received the interest and promises of development partners.
Currently, we’re implementing the E-Commerce Strategy with UNCTAD under Tier 2 of the Enhanced Integration Framework (EIF) and designing the Digital Trade Policy Framework with technical assistance from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). With DFAT’s assistance, we will also publish the Good Practice Guide for small businesses transitioning from offline to online during COVID. We published drafts of four Good Practice Guides in May 2020 for food and commodity businesses, restaurants, delivery services, and wholesale consumer good distributors.
We’re doing the EU Myanmar ARISE Plus project to assist SMEs transitioning into digital commerce and penetrate the global market. We are discussing with other development partners to implement the action plans of CERP in a short amount of time.
Q: WIll you be rebroadcasting the virtual conference?
A: We will be editing the entire conference into smaller videos and making them available to the public.
Q: Is there anything else you want to say to the public?
A: We worked hard in public-private dialogues concerning e-Commerce strating in 2017 and cooperating with development partners. In 2019, the Digital Trade and e-Commerce Development Sub-committee was formed under the Digital Economy Development Committee (DEDC). The Deputy Minister for Commerce was appointed Chairman of the Sub-committee and there are action plans related to the DEDC’s roadmap we are implementing.
We are drawing the e-Commerce Master Plan and aim to have it published near the end of this year. We will continue to work hard to develop the e-Commerce ecosystem and ensure the public is aware of the progress made by the Ministry of Commerce.
(Translated by Pen Dali)