Examination of Witnesses (Questions 355
WEDNESDAY 8 MARCH 2000
355. Good afternoon, Mr Griffiths, Ms Marsland
and Mr Wong. I take it you are dealing with the tax aspects, are
you, Mr Wong?
(Mr Wong) Yes.
356. Ms Marsland, with intellectual property?
(Ms Marsland) That is right.
357. We will start, first of all, with Mr Griffiths.
Very many thanks for your submission of the paper, which we all
found very interesting indeed, and which has pulled together a
number of topics that we have been picking up as we look at e-commerce
as we go along. It has very nicely brought it together. We are
looking at the structures of the Commission and the way in which
it operates and develops policy and co-ordinates, but spread over
a wider range we have used the eEurope paper as a bit of a base
as well for asking questions. I will start you off with your view
on the paper. I think you will have seen it. How do you rate it,
particularly in comparison with e-commerce@its best.uk?
(Mr Griffiths) I felt that the eEurope paper was a
very helpful paper. partly because it was nice and brief so it
did not take too long to read! In terms of scope, breadth of scope
and coverage, I do not think it compares with the email@example.com
paper. But that may be a virtue in that it leaves a smaller range
of tasks to be accomplished, so it is trying to set itself a reasonably
achievable range of objectives. The big difficulty I see with
the Europe paper from an e-commerce point of view, which is where
my main focus at work lies, is the fact that the measures they
say they are going to bring forward have a lot of holes in them,
in terms of the degree of harmonisation they are actually going
to achieve. So there will remain, even after they have accomplished
what they have set out to accomplish, a lot of diversity between
the regulations in different Member States. This will mean that
the costs for business in trading across borders using e-commerce
are going to remain higher than they should be. Those costs will
be borne, ultimately, by the consumers.
358. You listed nine areas in which regulations
were needed: advertising and unfair competition, language requirements,
specific rules as to contract terms, product specific rules, local
data privacy rules, IPR tax, e-commerce. Is this a full list,
do you think?
(Mr Griffiths) The list is not complete, I am afraid.
It was meant to be an illustrative list. You can add to that telecoms
regulation, export control, electronic signatures, and no doubt
a raft of other areas. I picked that list to show issues which
a relatively simple business, looking at e-commerce, would face
in trying to trade across borders within the EU.
359. As you know, Governments are invariably
slow to act compared with the private sector. In Europe it can
be alleged to be even slower. Of the issues on the agenda, what
are the top four which they need to deliver across the year 2000?
(Mr Griffiths) If they could tackle the advertising,
unfair competition and contract formation related issues, and
deliver host country control on those issues in the consumer arena,
that would be a real bonus for business. If they tackled language
requirements, that would take away a major obstacle. However,
I have my doubts as to whether that is practically achievable.
Etienne, do you want to see if you can bulk the list up to four?
(Mr Wong) Certainly from a tax perspective the authorities
are aiming to achieve some sort of certainty on a number of major
issues during the course of this year. The European Commission
will be coming up with a set of proposals in relation to VAT this
month. Their concern is that the VAT regime is not prejudicial
in their application to businesses established within Europe,
to ensure we do not end up with a lot of start-up e-commerce companies
setting up in, say, Jersey as opposed to the EU. So from the EU's
perspective that is quite important.