UK and Australia in E-Commerce Agreement

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The United Kingdom and Australia last month signed an agreement on e-commerce, e-government and cooperation in the information technology industries that is being hailed as an important step in the development of a global trust framework.

The agreement, said Colin Lloyd, president of the UK Direct Marketing Association and chairman of TrustUK, an e-commerce trust mark, "paves the way for greater global cooperation on e-commerce trading standards.

"With both countries at the leading edge of the digital economy, this initiative will help us develop consumer trust and confidence in e-business which is so vital for its expansion beyond national borders."

Most e-commerce, said Robert Dirskovski, who is in charge of TrustUK affairs at the DMA, "is still within national boundaries. Consumers mistrust Web sites they don't know and prefer trading with recognized brands."

A global trust framework would speed consumer acceptance of cross-border brands. Thus, Dirskovski said, the presence of the TrustUK mark on a Dutch site that carries its own domestic safety mark would ease doubts.

"These marks make sure that wherever a consumer seeks to place his business the same standards will apply. If I want to buy boomerangs in Australia, the trader will observe the same terms and conditions with me as with someone within his own territory.

"In other words, he will adhere to the same practices and if something goes wrong a mechanism exists where consumers can get redress. This is something current e-commerce laws do not provide."

The agreement covers "co-regulatory measures that include trust marks, alternate dispute resolutions, codes of practice, data protection, digital certification, intellectual property rights and policy coordination," Dirskovski said.

The thrust of the agreement is to bring "a lighter regulatory touch" to e-commerce.

"Co-regulation means that government sets a broad agenda and asks industry to find ways to achieve those policy goals. It relies on self-regulation," Dirskovski said. "That has the advantage of being more flexible, quicker and easier to implement. The more that we can link up with other countries, the faster we move to a global economy ... and then real consumer benefits will fall into place more easily."

The UK has signed similar e-commerce memoranda with Singapore and Hong Kong while Australia has reached such agreements with the United States, China, Canada, Japan and Korea.

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