On 21 September, Ecommerce Europe held a high level round table, hosted by the Permanent Representation of the Netherlands to the EU. It is a fact that e-commerce is changing postal and parcel markets. Global e-commerce streams are revolutionizing shopping, but the current parcel streams are not fit to accommodate this. Almost one in five EU citizens identifies cheaper delivery prices as the main improvement that would encourage more online cross-border shopping in the EU. Similarly, more than a third of online merchants view the higher costs of cross-border delivery compared to domestic delivery as an obstacle when selling online abroad, according to Ecommerce Europe’s Cross-border E-commerce Barometer 2016. For these reasons, and in order to discuss and elaborate on the state of play of parcel delivery services and to find solutions, Ecommerce Europe decided to organize this second high-level round table, of many to come, covering other e-commerce related topics.
European Commission’s proposals on parcel delivery services: a good starting point, but…
The European Commission published a Proposal for a Regulation on cross-border parcel delivery services in May 2016. Harrie Temmink, Acting Head of Unit for Public Interest Services, DG GROWTH, presented in detail the Commission’s Proposal and explained how it can solve existing issues and barriers and foster cross-border e-commerce. Participants in the round table generally welcomed the Commission’s proposals and agreed that it is a good starting point to improve price transparency in the delivery market.
Indeed, most attendees agreed that there are issues with cross-border pricing, sometimes in terms of consistency and/or transparency. However, postal operators – represented by PostEurop – believe that in general postal prices are already transparent and that most EU postal operators are already publishing their public list of tariffs online. Nevertheless, PostEurop accepts the aim of the proposed regulation in improving price transparency, although some concerns still remain for postal operators in relation to this proposal.
Overall, participants agreed that imposing any sort of price regulation is not a good solution for the parcel delivery sector. Ecommerce Europe has been vocal in opposing price regulation and therefore supports the Commission’s cautious approach, which leaves room for case-by-case assessment by national authorities. The Maltese Permanent Representation to the EU, upcoming Presidency of the Council of the EU, was represented by Andrew Tony Camilleri, who also welcomed the Proposal and expressed his wish to push it ahead.
Giving Ecommerce Europe’s perspective, Walter Trezek – Vice-Chair of the e-Logistics Working Group – declared that this proposal has the potential to help create a level playing field for competing operators and therefore, ultimately, for online merchants throughout Europe. However, more discussion is needed on the practical implementation of the proposed Regulation in order to be effective in creating real clarity in the market. Overall, participants also agreed that the proposal needs to be completed by harmonization, interoperability and open standards in the parcel delivery market. Ecommerce Europe is leading the way in this area, through its work on a harmonized and interoperable label standard, which will be able to transform the “analog” parcel into a “digital” one, ready to fulfil the needs of a modern and rapidly evolving e-commerce sector.
Discussions on competition at the international level
The question of China was also an important point of discussion, especially amongst postal operators. Some participants are concerned about parcel flows from third countries listed as “developing countries” – when they are not anymore – and that, accordingly, receive special tariffs and subsidies. That is why Ecommerce Europe is acting at the Universal Postal Union (UPU) level, to avoid China still being listed as developing country, leaving Europe to be flooded with cheaper parcels via Chinese post, and others currently benefitting from an outdated UPU termination fee system, granting development aid to the disadvantage of online trade in Europe.
The Commission also agreed that this situation can be anti-competitive in some cases and create market distortions. However, this needs to be addressed at the international level through Countries which are members of the UPU, as the European Commission only has an observer position, although it welcomes all solutions and recommendations from the sector.
More certainty of delivery needed
Certainty of delivery is needed both from the consumer side, as Agustín Reyna from the European Consumer Organization BEUC emphasized, and from the merchants’ side. That is why there is a need for real harmonization, interoperability, as well as interconnectivity in the parcel delivery sector. To this purpose, Walter Trezek also presented Ecommerce Europe’s new strategy to innovate the parcel delivery market, which is included in the recently published Ecommerce Europe Manifesto on e-Logistics.
Ecommerce Europe will continue its work with service providers and policy makers to ensure that we come closer to a global level playing field accessible to all players through the use of open information- and label standards. The high-level round table on parcel delivery was a good starting point for further discussions. Ecommerce Europe would like to warmly thank the Permanent Representation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands for hosting the event, and all participants for their fruitful contributions, and looks forward to more rounds of discussion in the future.