US-China Legal Exchange Provides Valuable Perspective on State of E-Commerce in Both Countries

The 17th U.S.-China Legal Exchange, a joint US Department of Commerce ("DOC") and PRC Ministry of Commerce ("MofCom") program, was held August 27-31 with workshops held in Harbin, Beijing and Guiyang focusing on recent developments in intellectual property rights enforcement and e-commerce issues. I had the privilege of being part of the governmental and private U.S. delegation head up by Department of Commerce General Counsel Cameron Kerry.

The exchange offered some important insights into the state of e-commerce in both countries. In my presentations, I spoke of the evolution of U.S. regulation of the internet as moving from a frontier society approach, where regulation was adopted by consensus and initially focuses on measures designed to ensure e-commerce's viability so that consumers felt safe to shop online, to the current state where the number of actors and the complexity of issues involved has increased substantially and consensus is elusive. During this tour of China, Chinese media was abuzz with a price war between leading online players that left some consumers concerned whether the prices would be honored, This demonstrated that China, who soon will overtake the United States as the largest e-commerce market, was still in the "frontier phase" of internet regulation as internet penetration and trust in e-commerce takes root in China.

The process of explaining the history of U.S. regulation of e-commerce on foreign soil, was a reminder of the success of the "light touch" approach to regulation that has been applied to the internet to date. In addition, where regulators have acted they have been wise to focus on the conduct of the parties and not the technological platforms used since the internet makes both good and evil more efficient, a point I emphasized to the Chinese audience.

My presentation also touched on emerging legal issues such as crowdfunding, consumer privacy and cyber smearing. In concluding, I stated that it had been an honor to discuss this exciting new age where the vast ocean that has separated us for centuries can be navigated in seconds with the click of a mouse.

I believe that the internet is and will continue to transform China. For example, while there is much discussion about the Great Firewall used by the Chinese government, that merely captures the tip of the iceberg thus leaving untouched a great mass of discussion and debate occurring in social media and elsewhere on the internet at levels unprecedented in Chinese history.


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