At UNCTAD’s e-Commerce Week, Digitalisation Takes Centre Stage

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At the United Nations Conference on Trade And Development’s (UNCTAD) eCommerce Week, decision-makers from governments, businesses and civil society organisations will address the lack of development aid earmarked to help poorer countries build the infrastructure and skills they need to adapt to the digital economy next week.

Over 1,000 participants from 120 countries are expected to attend the fifth edition of the global event, convening from April 1-5, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, under the theme From Digitalisation to Development.

They will gather amid a new surge in global e-commerce sales, which grew by 13% to hit an estimated $29 trillion in 2017, according to the latest numbers released today by UNCTAD.

Despite the fact that trade is increasingly done online, just slightly more than 1% of all Aid for Trade development funding goes to the ICT-related projects needed to help developing countries prepare, raising the risk that businesses and people in these nations could miss out on the opportunities.

“The rapid pace of digital transformation is occurring while almost half the world’s population remains unconnected from the Internet. If left unaddressed, the yawning gap between under-connected and hyper-digitalized countries will widen, exacerbating current inequalities,” UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi said.

“Levels of digitalization will greatly influence the ability of countries to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals set for tackling challenges like hunger, disease, and climate change.”

Without a concerted development approach to e-commerce, the big players could easily dominate digital markets at the expense of smaller businesses. This risk will be at the heart of the week’s discussions.

Here are some of the highlights to watch out for during the week.

eTrade readiness

An important step in turning digital opportunities into development gains is to gauge how prepared countries are, and UNCTAD will start eCommerce Week by presenting the Rapid eTrade Readiness Assessments of Afghanistan and Bangladesh. To date, the organization has done 17 such diagnoses.

The discussion of what needs to be done to support those who trail in digital readiness will continue during Tuesday’s high-level dialogue moderated by BBC correspondent Imogen Foulkes. The discussion will be streamed live on UNCTAD’s Facebook page. Confirmed speakers include:

·         Mukhisa Kituyi, Secretary-General, UNCTAD

·         Amani Abou-Zeid, Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy, African Union Commission

·         Rebecca Enonchong, Founder and CEO of AppsTech, Board Chair of Afrilabs, Vice-President of African Business Angels Network

·         Boutheina Guermazi, Director, Digital Development Global Practice, World Bank

·         Malavika Jayaram, Executive Director, Digital Asia Hub

·         David Porteous, Founder and Chair of BFA and Co-founder and Chair of Digital Frontiers Institute.

Another issue that features prominently on the agenda is consumer trust online, and a preview of the new results from the Global Survey on Internet Security and Trust will be presented at a session on Monday, April 1.

eCommerce Week will also mark Helena Leurent’s first public appearance as the new head of Consumers International. Her organization will hold an opening-day session on the current international negotiations on e-commerce and their implications for consumers.

Trade in the digital economy and the issue of regulating data privacy, competition in digital markets and taxing, will be discussed during a ministerial roundtable on Tuesday, 2 April.

Alexander Mora, Costa Rica’s former trade and science and technology minister and now the chairman and CEO of Tecapro-EVICERTIA, will moderate the roundtable. Participants will include ministers from Bangladesh, Madagascar, Paraguay, Togo and Uganda.

With some 250 million fewer women online than men, the persistent digital gender divide is a big obstacle to extending the benefits of e-commerce to all. Key to closing the gap is changing the narrative of women in the digital economy, and a session on Wednesday, 3 April, will announce a new Dutch-funded eTrade for Women Network bringing together women digital change makers.

Other sessions – many of which organised by eTrade for All partners and donors Australia, Germany and Korea – will look at block chain technologies, trade logistics in the digital era, digital trade and industrialisation, and the role of digitalisation in the African Continental Free Trade Area, known for short as the AfCFTA, which is just one ratification away from creating a $2 trillion single market of 1.2 billion people.

eCommerce Week will also feature the third session of the Intergovernmental Group of Experts on E-commerce and the Digital Economy, where governments will convene to agree on a political outcome related to the role and value of data for inclusive development.

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