High-level panel highlights potential of e-commerce as driver for growth and inclusion

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The FINANCIAL — The WTO, the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the Electronic Trade Platform (eWTP) opened the debate on this issue with a high-level panel session titled “E-commerce 2030: enabling an inclusive future for e-commerce”, organized as part of the “Enabling E-commerce” initiative launched on the margins of the 11th WTO Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires in December 2017. This initiative attempts to galvanize debate on e-commerce issues among a wide range of stakeholders, encouraging the sharing of ideas and best practice.

WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo called on the international community to ensure that the digital revolution now underway is fully inclusive and leaves nobody behind. He stressed that e-commerce provides a springboard to overcome some of the traditional obstacles to trade but warned that without the right approach, big players could easily dominate this market at the expense of smaller business.

DG Azevêdo led the debate, where speakers agreed on the need to urgently face the variety of challenges needed to ensure that the benefits of e-commerce are more widely shared around the world as well as to reduce and eliminate the existing digital divide which particularly affects least-developed countries (LDCs).

Borge Brende, President of the World Economic Forum (WEF), noted that e-commerce offers new opportunities that can contribute to the development of regional and global value chains for both goods and services, while playing a key role in reducing inequalities. Brende said that new thinking, regulatory coherence, policy space for governments, security for workers, flexibility for business and sustainable choices for consumers are the main ingredients to achieve results.

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Speaking on behalf of the Electronic World Trade Platform, Jack Ma, Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group, said that less talk and more action is needed to face the new trade reality born as a result of the e-commerce boom. He called for an upgrade to existing trade rules, not the creation of new ones, and to open the debate on this matter beyond governments.

UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi spoke of the main challenges faced by the international community when dealing with this new form of trade: measuring e-commerce, identifying where the gaps are, and raising awareness on the need to close the digital divide. He also noted that governments in LDCs have to be clear about what they intend to do in terms of e-commerce before seeking assistance – “broadband connectivity without the skills and capacities is a wasted opportunity” – and underlined the importance of visibility.

Ambassador Robert Dufter Salama of Malawi said that LDCs are aware of the opportunity for job creation, business expansion and thriving economies the digital revolution offers. However, they face major challenges in jumping on the bandwagon of e-commerce – 62 per cent of the population without access to electricity, high illiteracy rates and high prices for IT products as well as few internet service providers and inadequate financial services.


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