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Digital trade

China's ambitions to set the foundations for global e-commerce

Published 01 March 2022

Shaping a new type of information system for e-commerce offers China the chance to bolster the larger strategy of the Chinese Communist Party to control information in the digital era. An advantage in this space enables an advantage in global trade.

In November 2019, the International Standardization Organization (ISO) inaugurated a new technical committee. Dedicated to transaction assurance in electronic commerce, the Committee’s mandate includes ensuring the authenticity of e-commerce suppliers, the accessibility of e-commerce platforms, and the quality of goods transacted through e-commerce. Dubbed ISO/TC 321, it would be the ISO’s first technical committee solely focused on e-commerce.

ISO/TC 321’s office sits in Hangzhou, China, and remains the only ISO unit chaired by the country. Three standards are currently in development under the committee’s leadership: One targeting information sharing of product quality, and the other two focused on terminology and frameworks for transaction assurance.

E-commerce offers a prime example of the implications of China’s standard-setting strategy for international trade. This paper, authored by Emily de la Bruyère of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, surveys China’s efforts in setting standards relevant to e-commerce, how they are poised to evolve, and the potential consequences of these efforts for China’s place in international trade, the architecture of the trade system itself, and Beijing’s larger digital ambitions. If exported internationally, China’s e-commerce standards system could allow Beijing influence over global commercial information – and therefore commerce.

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Emily de La Bruyère is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), and co-founder of Horizon Advisory, a strategic consultancy with a focus on China policy.

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