Until trade laws can be harmonized, the growth of e-commerce in Europe will lag behind the United States, a Paris conference was told recently.
Michel Lacombe, president of Microsoft Europe, Middle East, Africa (EMEA), told the conference that he gave the continent only a 65 per cent chance of bridging the e-commerce gap with the US by 2005.
“Most important is getting governments to do their job, and in the very short term they have to resolve the cross-border issues around e-commerce,” he said.
The conference had been organized by Microsoft Europe to examine European progress towards the Information Age. It was told that nearly 7,000 US companies were conducting business online in 1998 compared to 2,000 in the European Union.
Less than 10 per cent of Europeans were connected to the Internet compared to 35 per cent of Americans.
John Frank, Microsoft’s senior corporate attorney, said the debate in Brussels was over whether trade laws in the country of origin of e-shipments should apply or those in the country of reception.
“In the UK, small companies won’t ship abroad because they don’t want to take on another country’s consumer protection laws and other regulations,” he said.
“Value added tax is a complicated mess in the physical world and now online,” he added, referring to the different rates in EU countries engaged in e-commerce.
Frank said government had a major role to play in funding IT skills training. He praised a Swedish tax breaks initiative which was boosting PC ownership and measures announced in the UK Budget. “There is also a distinction between enabling and controlling legislation,” he said.
“If you look at the proposals for the UK’s Secure Electronic Commerce bill, it was trying to bring in through the back door a key escrow system. And to Tony Blair’s credit, they have now stepped back and said we do not need that.”