Beijing intern Imogen Page-Jarrett attended the conference and wrote this analysis, with Kaj Malden offering editorial support

What Happened

China hosted the First Global Cross-border E-commerce Conference in Beijing from February 9-10, 2018. The event was co-organized by the World Customs Organization (WCO) and China’s General Administration of Customs (GAC). Nearly 2,000 representatives from global customs agencies, governments, international organizations, e-commerce enterprises and academia attended the event. The purpose of the conference was to discuss the WCO’s draft framework of standards on cross-border e-commerce (CBEC) and set basic principles for regulation of the burgeoning sector. The key outcome of the conference was the Beijing Declaration, a document outlining the conference stakeholders' consensus and vision for the development of global CBEC standards. In the months ahead, WCO will consolidate stakeholders’ feedback and revise the standards framework before it is officially released in June 2018. The framework will be the first guiding documentation on how global customs agencies should supervise global cross-border e-commerce.

Our Take

China, which accounted for nearly half of global e-commerce sales in 2017 and is home to leading e-commerce operators such as Alibaba and JD, is in a strong position to share its CBEC development story. With GAC taking an active role in co-hosting the world’s first international conference on CBEC, China is pursuing a larger role in international standards setting. China also hosted the “World Internet Conference” in Wuzhen in December 2017. Together, the two conferences suggest that China is seeking to stake out a leadership position for global governance regimes related to the technology industry.

Especially noteworthy is that Chinese officials including Vice Premier Wang Yang highlighted the role of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in promoting CBEC development in developing countries. The Global Cross Border E-Commerce Conference thus gave China the opportunity to not only engage in international standard setting but also promote its signature foreign policy initiative, which embodies the more proactive diplomatic stance China has assumed under the leadership of Xi Jinping.

The conference’s official publication, the Beijing Declaration, calls on customs stakeholders to ensure the safety, security and integrity of the e-commerce landscape by leveraging new technologies including the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), block chain, big data and cloud computing. The Declaration also calls for strengthened cooperation among national customs bodies through information exchange, mutual recognition of standards, and collaboration on law enforcement.

The second major outcome of the conference was the announcement of the private sector’s Initiative for Action of the Global Cross-border E-commerce Sector. Customs officials put forward the need to work with e-commerce operators to leverage their platforms to monitor and collect data on CBEC activities. This call for collaboration suggests that there will be new opportunities for e-commerce operators to leverage new technologies such as IoT, AI and cloud computing to bolster security and efficiency in CBEC transactions.

South China Morning Post previously reported on one private sector CBEC initiative that was highlighted in the Beijing Declaration. Alibaba’s electronic world trade platform (eWTP) launched its first hub in Malaysia in November 2017. The platform’s logistics centers enable its users, which are mainly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), to conduct regulation-free CBEC. Alibaba aims to build a global network of eWTPs over the next three decades to serve as a modern version of the Silk Road.

Kaj Malden
Kaj Malden

Kaj Malden is a project consultant in APCO Worldwide's Shanghai office and a co-editor of APCO's China Reform Watch. Read More