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EC consults on low take-up of e-commerce

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The European Commission has asked retailers, governments, telecoms companies and the public to help it to understand why e-commerce has had such a limited effect on trade in Europe.

The Commission has launched a consultation process aimed at understanding why, 10 years after the E-Commerce Directive was passed, e-commerce retail represents only a tiny fraction of Europe's retail business.

"The European Commission wishes to study in detail the various reasons for the limited takeoff of electronic commerce ... and evaluate the implementation of the [E-Commerce] Directive," said the Commission's call for responses.

The Commission wants to hear the views of policy makers, businesses and the public on issues such as contractual restrictions on cross-border online sales and whether interpretation of the law on the liability of online service providers is hindering trade.

"Electronic commerce constitutes an important means to promote cross-border trade, improving the accessibility of Europe's population to more varied products, to more qualitative products, and exerting greater price competition in the on-line and off-line world," said the consultation. "However, 10 years after the adoption of the [E-Commerce Directive], the development of retail electronic commerce remains limited to less than 2% of European total retail trade."

Since the current Commission took office this year it has promoted a digital agenda which it hopes will solve some of the problems facing online businesses in the EU. That plan involves 100 actions, 31 of which will involve changing EU law, the Commission said earlier this year.

One of the aims of that agenda is improving the market for cross-border online commerce. It published a green paper last month outlining changes it planned to make to contract law in Europe to encourage consumers to buy goods and services from traders in other EU countries.

"Only 8% of consumers buy online from another member state," said a Commission statement announcing the consultation on those changes. "In addition, 61% of cross-border sales are rejected because traders refuse to serve the consumer's country. This is largely due to regulatory barriers and legal uncertainty about the applicable rules."

"I want a Polish, German or Spanish consumer to feel as safe when doing business with an Italian, Finnish or French company online as when they are at home," said Viviane Reding, the Justice Commissioner. "And I want Europe's small and medium-sized companies to offer their products and services to consumers in other countries without having to become experts in the national contract law systems of all other 26 EU countries."

The Commission has proposed creating a 28th contract regime that traders and consumers could use, rather than use the contract law of one of the EU's 27 member states.

The Commission's consultation on the E-Commerce Directive is open until 15 October.

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