Australia and the United States have agreed to a joint approach in the development of a number of Internet and electronic commerce-related policies in order to stimulate the growth of this promising market segment.
In a statement released by his media office, the Prime Minister, John Howard said that co-operation between the two countries would be based on "key policy principles of private sector leadership, minimal government intervention and self-regulation wherever possible".
Pledging to ensure the creation of 'a safe and secure environment' for electronic commerce, the initiative addresses several specific issues such as electronic commerce tariffs and taxation, authentication methods and consumer protection in the Internet environment.
Senator Richard Alston, Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, hailed the agreement as "historic".
"The US leads the world in virtually every aspect of the information economy," Senator Alston said, adding that if Australia is to "maximise inward IT investment and provide joint-venture and export opportunities", it will have to "work as closely as [possible] with the leading IT economy in the world".
According to the "Joint Statement on Electronic Commerce" that outlines issues covered by the Clinton-Howard accord, Australia and the US will "ensure effective and fair administration of their tax systems in relation to electronic commerce", making their taxes and tariffs rules 'neutral, efficient and simple to understand'.
Both countries will "support the indefinite extension" of the World Trade Organisation's 1998 declaration not to impose customs duties on electronic transmissions, as well as "take a non-discriminatory approach to electronic signatures and authentication methods from other countries", while also implementing their own models.
The Statement suggest the US government 'should end its role in the Internet name and numbering system in a manner that ensures the stability of the Internet".
Emphasising the importance of consumer safety in the electronic commerce environment, the agreement also states that the nations' approaches to information security will be based on the OECD Guidelines for the Security of Information Systems.
To complement the development of bilateral e-commerce frameworks, the two countries will soon establish an Australia-US Electronic Commerce Forum.
Senator Alston revealed Australia would subsequently step up efforts to ensure that the benefits of its co-operation with the US are " shared more broadly, particularly in the Asia Pacific region".