Why there’s a need for e-commerce legislation

There is no doubt that e-commerce is increasing daily in length and breadth. Rwanda, as a dynamic country, is catching up with the global trend. Like other e-government services, e-commerce is considered as an important developmental and trade facilitation tool needed.

Currently, there’s no specific law on e-commerce in Rwanda. Yet, it’s increasingly becoming a key digital tool for trade and services.

E-commerce uses a combination of Internet technology, mobile commerce, electronic funds transfers, escrowing services, electronic data interchange, supply chain management, inventory management systems, Internet marketing, data collection systems, and many other technologies and innovative business systems.

Most, if not all of e-commerce transactions use the Internet for at least one point of the transaction.

Today, e-commerce is considered an important trade facilitation platform whose rapid growth has stimulated a global debate about the nature of e-commerce regulation.

The legal regime would, among others, address the issue of taxes emanating from its usage without stifling its development.

Given that electronic commerce is rapidly evolving and businesses are trying to adapt to these changes, there’s a need to put in place a more specific legislation to comprehensively address associated e-commerce downsides.

As business people wish to distribute products and services via the internet, they’re required to comply with existing international legal standards.

For consumers, e-commerce means shorter shipping times, flexible payment options, relevant products and local language interfaces. It connects local industries and reduces reliance on imports.

With e-commerce, enterprises can sell their products or services worldwide with very limited physical presence in any particular consumer’s country and can operate without agents because they can directly, easily, and cheaply contact customers worldwide.

Because e-commerce exists in a borderless virtual world, political contestation and power.

As has significantly integrated information technology in various aspects of life, Rwanda needs an e-commerce legislation to regulate taxes, among others, for online business. And it would be seen as a tremendously added value to ICT penetration in the country.

As of now, Presidential Order ratifying the African Union Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection adopted at Malabo is the existing instrument on e-commerce.

However, Articles 3 to 7 of this Convention only focus on contractual liability of the provider of goods and services by electronic means, as well as contractual obligations in electronic form.

The Convention is limited to contract-related issues, which is a single aspect of e-commerce. As such, a legislation is need to thoroughly cover further e-contract-related issues, manage and control e-commerce risks, and remove e-commerce barriers.

As a member state of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), since 2019, Rwanda is recommended, like many other member states, to apply the 2016 OECD ‘the revised Recommendations on Consumer Protection in e-Commerce’ (“the revised Recommendation”), which addresses new and emerging trends and challenges faced by consumers in today’s dynamic e-commerce marketplace.

In revising its ‘Recommendation’, OECD wanted to ensure Consumer Protection in e-commerce and adapt consumer protection to the current environment and reinforce fair business practices, information disclosures, payment protections, dispute resolution and education.

On the whole, countries should modernize their consumer protection laws to address new risks posed by online commerce, according to the new OECD guidelines for member countries and emerging economies.

The ‘Recommendation’ states people buying online are entitled to the same level of protection as with conventional transactions. It calls on government to work with business and consumer groups to determine legal changes that could improve consumer trust in e-commerce.

The guidelines cover business-to-consumer e-commerce and addresses issues arising from the relationship between consumers and the Internet platforms that enable consumer-to-consumer transactions.

A legislation would not only guarantee an open market but would also promote innovation. Nowadays, online shopping is mainly driven by price and convenience; however, consumers tend to want more, like the ability to buy unique goods that can’t be found in local marketplaces, quick turnaround, fast delivery, anytime 24/7 access and even more.

Such a trend in e-commerce is incredibly fantastic. It enables people to be permanently connected and they dwell in an online ecosystem where everything happens in real time and they have an opportunity to call the shots through social media.

Indeed, e-commerce legislation is important as it would facilitate transactions within the country and across its borders. It would create the much-needed sense of certainty like that for traditional paper-based physical business transactions.

In many countries more emphasis has of late been put in developing e-commerce legal frameworks as e-commerce technologies offer significant advantages over traditional business practices.

The law would accommodate the new commercial practices to existing structures of national and international law and balance the requirement of paper which consistently limits the acceleration of e-commerce.

The ability to buy all the stuff even without leaving your home looks incredibly breathtaking. Imagine buying your favourite stuff with e-shops worldwide, like Alibaba, or Amazon or eBay. Moreover, these giant platforms have adopted innovative ideas for e-commerce business and they try to offer a solution to almost every product.

So, how suitably to regulate innovative e-commerce in the country’s industry? Developing a specific legislation would, at best, respond to a couple of prevalent issues of e-commerce.

The writer is a law expert.

The views expressed in this article are of the author.

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