New Delhi: A think tank of key stakeholders headed by commerce minister Suresh Prabhu will finalize a framework for a national e-commerce policy in six months’ time that will settle India’s stand on key issues such as taxation, competition policy, foreign investment and server localization, among others.

India has been finding it difficult to arrive at a consensus on a domestic e-commerce policy to effectively respond to a proposal for multilateral discipline in e-commerce at the World Trade Organization (WTO) as various government departments have contradictory views on the matter, Mint first reported on 7 March, 2017.

For example, while the department of telecom wants server locations of global e-commerce companies operating in India to be based in the country, the ministry of electronics and information technology supports no such restriction.

Briefing reporters after stakeholder consultations on Tuesday, commerce secretary Rita Teaotia said she will head a task force which will go into the details of the inputs received from the stakeholders. “The task force will come out with a set of recommendations which will be brought before the think tank in five months from now. We expect the think tank to finally give its policy recommendations to the government in six months from now. We are also constituting specific sub-groups within the task force because the subjects are wide-ranging," she added.

The meeting was attended by around 50 stakeholders including Competition Commission of India, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, Reserve Bank of India and secretaries from key departments as well as industry players.

Asked whether India will have a more flexible approach in joining negotiations for a e-commerce treaty at the WTO now, Teaotia said discussions at the WTO on e-commerce are underway in four technical groups and it does not have a negotiating mandate as yet.

“We certainly engage in these discussions. As we flesh out our own policy, our position will be much more informed and clear," she added.

Kunal Bahl, co-founder and chief executive officer of Snapdeal, said he raised the issue of e-commerce ventures providing heavy discounts to customers and violation of marketplace model where no inventory ownership is allowed. “There is obviously a lot of concern about whether this is effectively implemented or not. And if not what is going to be done about it," he added.

Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founder, Paytm, said he suggested that data access, market access and platform access in India needed to be reciprocal. “While the open market access to India is a big advantage for the global companies, it is not necessary that it will always be an advantage for India. My suggestion was that we should have an obligation for localisation of servers. If we were a small country, it would be understood if we were served from outside. But we have enough infrastructure in this country and all servers and all data should remain only in India," he added.

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