In a bid to launch itself as a high-tech platform for global e-commerce, the Government of Gibraltar released a consultation paper together with a draft of its e-commerce bill some weeks ago.

Minister for Trade, Industry and Telecoms Keith Azopardi said that in view of the fact that the EU e-commerce directive had only been approved on 4 May this year, Gibraltar finds itself at the forefront of its transposition. "Indeed we may be first if we move quickly enough," said the Minister.

Most Gibraltarians are bilingual in English and Spanish, the first and fourth languages of the internet which signifies that Gibraltar, with its high professional standards and bilingual workforce, will be extremely well positioned to capitalise on the global e-commerce boom.

Emphasising the importance of competitive pricing and routing options, Mr Azopardi announced that the facilitating telecoms liberalisation legislation is expected to also be in place in September/October 2000. Pointing to taxation as another important issue, the Minister said that "if e-commerce is taxed more stringently than other methods of doing business, this will hamper growth". In the light of the moratorium extended to internet transactions in the United States until 2005, Minister Azopardi stated: "My view is that the EU has to adopt a similar tax-friendly policy to that of the US.

"But more important than taxation is regulation," he continued, "particularly in financial transactions, so as to minimise the opportunities for cyber crime".

Whereas Part I of Gibraltar's e-commerce bill contains a definition of certain key concepts, Part II is primarily a transposition of the EU's e-commerce directive. In particular, the proposed law provides for contracts made over the internet to be legally binding. Part III of the bill transposes the EU electronic signatures directive.

Now that the consultation period is over and comments have been received, the Minister expressed the intention to move forward as soon as possible.

"Government should lead by example, by putting its business online as much as possible," said the Minister. In addition to the recent establishment of a think tank to promote Gibraltar as an e-commerce hub, Keith Azopardi announced that Government will soon recruit an E-commerce Development Officer "in order to drive this agenda with vigour and enthusiasm.

"Marketing, education and the retraining of the workforce will also be at the forefront of Government's efforts."

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