Governments Open Bonn Internet Conference

Rohit Khare (
Mon, 7 Jul 1997 11:26:09 -0400 (EDT)

BONN (Reuter) - Around 40 economics, trade and technology
ministers from the European Union, the United States, Russia,
Japan and Canada headed for Bonn Sunday for a conference on
Internet commerce.
The European hosts of Global Information Networks, opening
on Monday, saw some of their thunder stolen by President Clinton
last week when he issued a call to create an Internet ``free
trade zone'' within a year.
The United States wants to carve out such a zone within the
context of the World Trade Organization (WTO), with a group of
core countries ready and able to carry it out.
The proposal has met only a lukewarm response from European
Union states and some developing countries who fear that any
deal would disproportionately benefit U.S. industry.
But Clinton's unexpected foray into the hazy area of
Internet regulation is likely to be a hot topic at the Bonn
conference, because EU proposals so far remain sketchy and a
Bonn Declaration to be made at the end of the meeting promises
to hold little substance.
``This is mainly about ensuring that there is as little
regulation as possible,'' German Economics Minister Guenter
Rexrodt told reporters in a briefing ahead of the conference.
``And I hope that in the end it leads to establishing the
European position as important and meaningful in the world and
that we are not simply rolled over with American or Asian ideas
and standards.''
The Bonn conference begins with speeches on Monday by
Rexrodt, European Commissioner Martin Bangemann and Mady
Delvaux-Stehres, Luxembourg commuications minister.
There are four main themes to be discussed in plenary
sessions on Monday and Tuesday.
The first, ``Building Confidence,'' will be led by John
Battle, British industry minister. Christian Pierret, French
secretary of state for industry policy, will lead a second
session on ``Empowering the User,'' and a third session called
``Making the Most of Content Resources'' will be lead by Italian
post and telecoms minister Antonio Maccanico.
Industry heavyweights come out in force for the fourth and
likely most controversial session on Tuesday when officials from
Microsoft, Deutsche Telekom, International Business Machines
Corp. and Siemens AG trade ideas with United States, Japanese
and EU trade officials on ``Creating a Favourable Environment
for Electronic Commerce.''
The Bonn Declaration will be based on a theme paper that can
already be read on the Internet at the address
It is expected to contain statements underscoring the goal
of keeping regulation to a minimum, protecting the integrity of
regional and national cultural identity, and not erecting
barriers to network-based commerce.
But little progress can be expected on issues where European
and U.S. politicians still disagree, such as how to deal with
pornography and extremist material on the World Wide Web and the
use of encryption software.
After Clinton's announcement last week, the lingering
differences between the United States and the European approach
to policing cyberspace became apparent.
``We agree with the United States that we must avoid holding
back (Internet) development by imposing a paralyzing regulatory
scheme,'' Pierret said.
``But we must not ignore the serious difficulties that
nations are encountering in attempting to assure the protection
of consumers and to safeguard fundamental ethical principles,
particularly with regard to young people,'' he said.
Peter Guilford, spokesman for European Trade Commissioner
Sir Leon Brittan, said at first sight Clinton's proposals looked
interesting, but the whole concept clearly needed a great deal
of further study.
``A lot of the issues are already being discussed,''
Guilford said. ``But what exactly is a free-trade zone on the
Internet and does it take us further than where we are today?''