About three and a half months after its approval by the federal cabinet, the much-needed e-commerce policy framework seems to have entered the implementation zone. A National E-commerce Council has been reportedly set up. Under the draft policy, this council is supposed to provide one-window facilitation to the federal and provincial stakeholders on strategic and operational matters.
It is unclear how the said council, which has a heavy presence of leading government figures, will steer the digital economy in the desirable direction. It would have been better to establish one dedicated regulatory body that can guide the sector in a holistic manner by pursuing a pro-consumer and growth mindset. Instead, a supreme council of sorts is at the helm, with its meetings to be held at least twice a year.
Beyond the setup of this council, it appears that issues highlighted in October still remain unresolved. (Read: “Dissecting e-commerce policy framework,” published October 2, 2019). There is still no presence of the Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP) in the council. Worse, CCP’s inputs on matters of competition law and consumer protection, which were prepared in 2017 and 2018, have been ignored.
In addition, there seems to be no headway on amendments in consumer protection laws or capacity-building of consumer courts. It isn’t clear if the lack of penal consequences for violations will somehow persuade the digital players to follow the mandated code of conduct. Also, instead of discouraging consumers from using cash-on-delivery mode of payment, encourage uptake of digital wallets.
On matters of taxes, the lack of harmonization of different GSTs levied on digital services at the provincial level is a burden on consumers and barrier to growth of the digital ecosystem. Archaic customs rules still need to be aligned with peculiar nature of e-commerce (e.g. product rejections, re-exports, and interpretation of warranty contracts).
The commerce advisor, who is leading the e-commerce initiative, wants the public and private sectors and the academia to collaborate for the development of this fast-changing sector. It is good to see that different stakeholders have been included in the implementation process. There is reason to hope that the implementation process will be iterative and open to addressing flags on the way.