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Through WTO, US Seeks Information On China’s Internet Restrictions

by Glen Shapiro, LawAndTax-News.com, New York

25 October 2011


The United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk has announced that, under World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, he is seeking detailed information on the trade impact of Chinese policies that may block US companies’ websites in China.

He said that an internet website that can be accessed in China is increasingly a critical element for service suppliers aiming to reach Chinese consumers, and a number of US businesses, especially small- and medium-sized enterprises, have expressed concerns regarding the adverse business impacts from periodic disruptions to the availability of their websites in that country.

While the US believes that the best internet policy is to encourage the free flow of information globally, its WTO request relates specifically to the commercial and trade impact of the internet disruptions. Accordingly, China is being asked to provide details that will allow a fuller understanding of the legal and policy rules relevant to the accessibility of commercial websites in China.

In particular, the US points out that websites of service suppliers based outside of China are sometimes inaccessible in China, which can prevent those companies from marketing products and supplying services to the Chinese market. The US would therefore like to understand better China’s rules, guidelines and criteria governing website blocking so that service suppliers based outside of China may adopt appropriate policies to avoid encountering this problem.

The US has also asked for an explanation as to whether the blocking is implemented directly by the government, or indirectly by internet service providers (ISPs) and/or telecommunications companies; and, if blocking is carried out by ISPs or telecommunications companies, whether these actions are typically implemented through written governmental orders, and if there is any procedure for an appeal.

Questions have also been raised over whether the same process is used to prevent access to both foreign and domestic websites providing similar services in China, and whether internet content from outside of China goes through a monitoring process for illegal information separately from internet content created inside of China.

TAGS: business | commerce | law | World Trade Organisation (WTO) | China | internet | e-commerce | United States | regulation | retail | trade | services

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