During the recent UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) "eWeek" 2023, Deputy Director-General Angela Ellard took center stage to highlight the pivotal role of digital trade in promoting inclusive and sustainable development on a global scale.
In her address, DDG Ellard stressed the immense potential of digital trade to create a more inclusive global economy. She underscored the importance of empowering developing and least developed countries (LDCs) to actively participate in the digital trade arena, providing new opportunities for historically marginalized groups in the world of commerce.
DDG Ellard articulated that digital trade not only expands the horizons of international commerce but also serves as a powerful catalyst for economic growth and heightened productivity. This transformational potential holds particular promise for underserved communities, including small businesses, women, and LDCs.
However, DDG Ellard acknowledged the very real digital divide that continues to persist and must be urgently addressed. Impediments such as limited access to financial resources, low income levels, inadequate Internet infrastructure, deficient transport networks, and skill gaps hinder the full realization of digital trade's potential. Moreover, many economies lack the requisite legal and regulatory frameworks to combat cybercrime, ensure online privacy, facilitate interoperability between mobile money platforms and traditional banks, and foster consumer trust in online transactions.
To bridge this digital divide and fully unlock the potential of digital technologies, DDG Ellard underscored the critical importance of multilateral cooperation within the World Trade Organization (WTO). WTO members are actively engaged in efforts to address these challenges, seeking to enhance existing rules and craft new ones that align with the evolving landscape of global trade. Notably, the electronic commerce work program, which tackles various trade-related aspects of global e-commerce, has seen renewed vigor.
Furthermore, the issue of customs duties on electronic transmissions, a topic of substantial significance since 1998, will be a focal point of discussion at the WTO's 13th Ministerial Conference in February 2024. Additionally, a plurilateral initiative on e-commerce, involving participation from 90 WTO members, seeks to establish foundational rules governing the global digital economy.
DDG Ellard also highlighted the WTO's commitment to bolstering digital trade capacity through technical assistance and the Aid for Trade Programme, which aids developing and LDC members in building essential capacity and trade-related infrastructure. She emphasized collaborative research conducted by the WTO and other international organizations to explore the opportunities and challenges associated with digital trade for developing economies.
Prominent among these publications is a joint WTO/World Bank report titled "Turning Digital Trade into a Catalyst for African Development" and an upcoming report titled "Digital Trade for Development," co-authored by the IMF, OECD, UNCTAD, the World Bank, and the WTO, set to be launched during the UNCTAD "eWeek" 2023.
In conclusion, DDG Ellard called for intensified cooperation among international organizations, national governments, businesses, and civil society to comprehensively address the challenges and opportunities presented by digital trade. The global community remains committed to harnessing digital trade for the advancement of inclusive development and ensuring that the benefits of the digital economy reach all corners of the world.