Covid-19 News


The following package outlines WIPO’s suite of support measures to assist Member States in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as laying the foundations for post COVID economic recovery efforts. It comprises five main areas: policy and legislative assistance; technical assistance and capacity building; innovation support and technology transfer; IP dispute resolution; and knowledge resources


Member States seeking more information or wishing to tap on these forms of unilateral support should contact Mr. Sherif Saadallah, Executive Director of the WIPO Academy and Focal Point on WIPO’s Package of COVID-19 support.

Member States seeking more information on the WIPO-WTO-WHO Trilateral Cooperation relating to COVID-19 should contact Ms. Amy Dietterich, Director of the Global Challenges Division.

Policy and Legislative Assistance

Legislative and Policy Advice relating to IP, innovation and creativity

WIPO has decades of experience in providing advice to Member States on the drafting of IP laws as well as in the building of innovation and creative ecosystems. We will draw on this to provide advice to Member States on specific or systemic measures that will help them to address the pandemic, as well as build back better. Some examples of assistance in the past include the implementation of flexibilities contained in the international treaties. Other examples include the building of tech transfer and/or IP licensing capabilities.

Such advisory support is strictly bilateral and confidential, and will be tailor made to suit each Member State’s unique circumstances and needs.

Technical Assistance and Capacity-Building

WIPO Academy

WIPO National IP Training Institutions (IPTIs) will scale up COVID-related training and education programs. Areas of focus include: IP and Access to Medicines, IP and Medical Innovation (with focus on COVID-related medical innovation) and IP as an open collaboration tool to address COVID.  The Academy will assist the IPTIs to provide training courses focused on post-COVID economic recovery through innovation and creativity.

WIPO’s Distance Learning and Professional Development Courses provide an accessible way for Member States, communities and individuals, to build their IP knowledge and skills.  Customized versions of the courses also offer country specific IP learning.  WIPO’s professional development courses focus on building IP skills for government officials to support innovation and creativity. Distance learning courses of particular relevance include:

WIPO – WHO – WTO Intensified Cooperation

As part of our enhanced cooperation to support Member States in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, the WIPO, WHO and WTO will jointly offer a series of practical, capacity-building workshops. These have two overarching objectives: to enhance the flow of information as the pandemic evolves and to strengthen the capacity of Member States to address the pandemic via equitable access to COVID-19 health technologies.  The first workshop on technology transfer and licensing is planned to take place in the second half of September 2021.

The Trilateral Cooperation is also discussing how to step up efforts for tripartite technical assistance to Member States, through the provision of a one-stop shop that will make available the full expertise on access, IP and trade matters of all three agencies. More details will be provided in due course.

IP and Health/Life Sciences
  • Executive Course on Promoting Access to Medical Technologies and Innovation
  • Executive Course on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources in the Life Sciences
  • Leadership Course on Intellectual Property and the Life Sciences for Participants in the L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science Program
  • Specialization Course on the Essentials of Patents
  • eTutorial on Using Patent Information
  • Advanced Course on Patent Information Search

Innovation Support and Technology Transfer

WIPO Technology and Innovation Support Centers (TISC)

Member States can tap on our expertise in building over 1,200 Technology and Innovation Support Centers in over 80 countries. These Centers provide innovators and researchers in developing countries with access to locally based, high quality technology information and related services that will help them better understand and use IP in the R&D and technology contexts.  WIPO also provides a series of programs and training resources, including WIPO Distance Learning courses, to support the building of IP expertise and capabilities within these TISCs.

IP Dispute Resolution

WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center (WIPO AMC)

Some 15% of mediation and arbitration cases filed with the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center(WIPO AMC) are connected to the biosciences, medical devices and chemical industries. These disputes do not just involve large companies, but also SMEs and start-ups. The WIPO AMC has just announced that it will reduce its fees by 25% when any enterprise with less than 250 employees is involved in a dispute, so that start-ups and SMEs can have better access to such services.

In addition, the AMC is preparing to launch two new services in the last quarter of the year:

  • Tailored WIPO Mediation Agreements:  to facilitate contract negotiation or the resolution of contract performance disputes.
  • WIPO Dispute Resolution Board: to determine contract performance disputes as they arise in long-term life science collaborations.

Further information on WIPO ADR in the life sciences sector

Knowledge Resources

Covid-19 IP Policy Tracker

WIPO tracks and provides information on measures adopted by IP offices in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including information connected to deadlines, legislative responses and other regulatory measures.

Database on Flexibilities in the Intellectual Property (IP) System

The Database on Flexibilities in the IP System contains data drawn from WIPO documents on Patent Related Flexibilities in the Multilateral Legal Framework and their Legislative Implementation at the National and Regional Levels.  It allows searches for implementation of flexibilities in national IP laws in selected jurisdictions.


The Patent Information Initiative for Medicines (Pat-INFORMED) provides easy access to medicine patent information to the global health community, particularly those involved in procurement of medicines. As of June 2021, the database contained 236 International Non Proprietary Name (INN) sets, and 21,029 patents in 653 patent families.

Patent Landscape Reports (PLR) and Analytics

Patent Landscape Reports are a way of using patent information and data to gather and share insights on technology developments. WIPO has supported the WHO and local vaccine manufacturing discussions with its PLR on vaccines; licensing and public procurement discussions; and decisions of the Medicines Patent Pool related to antirotrevirals (ritonavir and Atazanavir).  WIPO is currently preparing a PLR relating to vaccines and therapeutic agents specifically targeting COVID-19 and hopes to release it just ahead of this year’s General Assemblies. WIPO has also collected publicly available PLRs and has put together a searchable compilation.



Online dashboard to monitor WIPO operations

Download July 29, 2021 update

Download June 7, 2021 update

Meetings and webinars

We have increased our offerings of virtual meetings and webinars to accommodate for COVID-19 restrictions and them more accessible worldwide.


WIPO virtual and hybrid meetings

Delegates can participate remotely and interactively in our formal meetings, thanks to a multi-lingual, cloud-based, virtual conferencing platform.

WIPO webinars

We organize free webinars for the latest information and training on WIPO services, databases and program activities.


With the COVID-19 pandemic restricting the movement of people and goods, modes of transaction have shifted dramatically.

Growing use of digital financial services has turned crisis into opportunity, enabling previously unbanked people and small firms to join the financial system.

Regulations have evolved to keep up with technology, but specific policies are needed to make sure no one gets left behind.

“While digital financial inclusion was a development priority before the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s really become indispensable now – both for short-term relief in terms of putting money in the hands of those who need it, but also as a central element of broad-based sustainable recovery efforts,” said Mahesh Uttamchandani, Practice Manager for Finance, Competitiveness and Innovation Global Practice at the World Bank Group.

COVID-19 has had a profound impact on people’s payment habits, with 60 per cent of financial authorities reporting an increase in digital transactions.

Simultaneously, the number of people receiving payments from governments quadrupled in the first half of 2020 as the global pandemic took hold.

Close to 70 per cent of financial regulators around the world identify financial technology, or fintech, as a high priority, aligning measures against COVID-19 with efforts to strengthen financial inclusion.

Digital cash transfers

Already a priority before COVID-19, digital financial inclusion has become more urgent as a policy goal, Uttamchandani said at this year’s Financial Inclusion Global Initiative (FIGI) symposium.

The World Bank is working on around 170 COVID-related projects across 110 countries, including new or expanded COVID-19 cash transfer projects in over 55 countries, he added.

Key goals include digitizing cash transfers and payments, establishing faster payment systems, enabling digital identification and electronic ‘Know Your Customer’ (KYC) technologies, and protecting consumers from heightened risks.

Quick response

Countries and markets that were already investing in digital financial services were better placed to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, said Gregory Chen, Policy Lead at Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP).

Togo, for example, quickly rolled out its Novissi social assistance programme using machine learning and mobile money to deliver contactless emergency cash transfers. Pre-existing digital infrastructure made this possible for the West African country, Chen said.

Another key factor was regulators’ pragmatic response to the pandemic.

“Very early on, a lot of the regulators realized that the banking system remained vital for economic activity,” said Chen, adding that, by deeming it an essential service, “they figured out ways to keep the banking system and payment systems going.”

Chen offered an example of this pragmatic action from regulators in the Philippines, where regulators enabled a cash transfer programme managed by one public-sector bank to be opened up to multiple providers of payment services, including mobile money operators.

KYC technologies

World Bank financial inclusion projects have helped to simplify due diligence and KYC provisions in markets as diverse as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Morocco and Nepal, as well as to implement fast-payment systems in Georgia, Madagascar and Indonesia, Uttamchandani said.

The World Bank’s G2Px government-to-person payment initiative has also provided technical assistance for digitizing social benefit transfers in 35 countries.

Instruments for inclusion

In developed markets, accelerated digitization amid the pandemic has spawned new payment, loan and insurance products. European markets have seen a surge in contactless transactions, said Magda Bianco, Managing Director of the Bank of Italy, the country’s central bank.

Instruments provided by intermediaries have also made credit scoring easier.

“This allows small companies, which typically do not have a credit history, to get into the market to get loans,” Bianco explained.

Digital tools are also helping individuals enter the financial system for the first time, she added. “In some countries, new digital saving accounts have been introduced with no or very low fees.”

Deepening digital divide

Access to digital services remains extremely uneven. Experts suggest that digital exclusion may partly correlate with income losses in the pandemic, with a disproportionate impact seen on low- and medium-skilled workers, the self-employed, and women.

GSMA – the GSM Association representing mobile network operators – says women are seven per cent less likely than men to own a mobile phone and 15 per cent less likely to use mobile Internet.

“Women make up 39 per cent of global employment but 54 per cent of overall job losses,” Uttamchandani observed.

Gender disaggregated data could help to inform targeted policies and initiatives for financial inclusion, he added.

Cybersecurity risks

Digital uptake has, in parallel, increased people’s vulnerability to identity fraud, online scams and other cybersecurity threats. Digital microcredit applications have also seen rising fraud in recent months. This is especially risky for new and unskilled users.

“Understanding risks are really important for vulnerable groups disproportionately hit by the pandemic, such as women, youth, the elderly people and migrants,” Bianco said.

Promoting digital and financial literacy

Efforts to improve digital financial inclusion must include measures to protect consumers while providing the widest possible access. Digital financial education is equally vital to make the system accessible to individuals, vulnerable groups, and micro and small enterprises, Bianco said.

Despite the pandemic, governments and institutions need to persist in collating updated information on financial inclusion, she added.

Comprehensive surveys have been difficult to perform during the pandemic. However, the G20’s Global Partnership for Financial Inclusion (GPFI) platform – launched in 2010 during the G20 Summit in Seoul, Republic of Korea – is now compiling case studies and analyzing best practices from various countries.

Not leaving anyone out

Unless industry keeps expanding and improving its digital financial service offerings, it “may unintentionally help to victimize some of the most marginal groups,” Uttamchandani said.

Rapid growth in the use of digital financial services, when combined with low financial awareness, can lead to problems such as over-indebtedness. To avert such problems, service offerings must be tailored to each local market, he said.

Although access is improving, in every country there are people unreachable by digital finance.

“We still need to be able to respond to those populations and recognize both the power and the limits of digital finance,” Chen cautioned.

“In doing so, we will have a much stronger response to the COVID pandemic and an opportunity to accelerate some of the positive parts of digital finance.”

FIGI is a partnership of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the World Bank Group, and the Committee on Payments and Market Infrastructures (CPMI), supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Revisit the discussions of the 2021 FIGI Symposium for unique insights on how how governments and industry are working together to overcome COVID-19 and connect everyone with life-changing digital financial services.


Countries across the globe are continuing to move towards a seamless and efficient trading environment, within and beyond national borders, by simplifying and digitalizing formalities in international trading, helping to sustain international trade despite the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a survey released today by the United Nations regional commissions.

The United Nations Global Survey on Digital and Sustainable Trade Facilitation is produced biennially by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the Economic Commission for Latin America and Caribbean (ECLAC), the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA).

The Fourth Survey covers not only the trade facilitation measures in the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement, but also digital trade facilitation measures supported by the numerous recommendations and electronic business standards of the UNECE-hosted United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT). The Survey also pays special attention to sectors and groups with special needs, such as the agricultural sector, small and medium enterprises and women traders. A new module on trade facilitation during times of crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic was integrated this year.

Many developing countries and countries with economies in transition have made rapid progress in streamlining trade procedures, particularly in Asia and the Pacific. The Survey, covering 143 countries, shows the global average implementation rate of trade facilitation and paperless trade measures at 65 per cent. For 128 countries, this is an increase of 5 percentage points from an average of 61 per cent to 66 per cent in the last Survey in 2019. In 2021, developed economies have the highest implementation rate (82 per cent), followed by countries in South-East and East Asia (75 per cent). Pacific Islands have the lowest implementation rate (44 per cent).

In the UNECE region, average trade facilitation implementation increased from 73 per cent in 2019 to 76 per cent in 2021. Higher progress has been recorded in Central Asia (16 per cent increase), followed by North America (6 per cent), the Caucasus and Turkey (5 per cent). Despite the significant progress made since 2019, Central Asia is still lagging, as is Eastern Europe and South-Eastern Europe at around 64 per cent while the other four sub-regions (the Caucasus and Turkey; EU, UK, Norway and Switzerland; North America; Russian Federation) reached close to 80 per cent or higher implementation rate. The Survey results for the implementation levels of trade facilitation measures in times of crisis and pandemic vary widely across the region with an average of 46 per cent. The UNECE 2021 Survey includes 44 countries with the addition of two new countries – Andorra and Luxembourg.

The categories that have lower levels of implementation and vary significantly across the region are Paperless trade and Cross-border paperless trade. These are all digital measures, therefore presenting challenges related to ICT infrastructure and digital skills, amongst others. Several countries in the region have reached over 90 per cent implementation in these categories, but countries in Central Asia, Eastern Europe and South-Eastern Europe are far behind in these categories.

“While the world is grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic and its socioeconomic impacts, digital trade facilitation measures are of paramount importance to keep supply chains operating smoothly and to accelerate the sustainable recovery needed for the 2030 Agenda”, said Ms. Olga Algayerova, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of UNECE. “UNECE stands ready to support its member States, including countries with economies in transition, to further strengthen digital trade facilitation, harnessing UNECE’s normative tools and policy support.” The UNECE-hosted UN/CEFACT trade facilitation recommendations and e-business standards are key instruments in this regard, and are available free of charge to countries globally.

“Implementation of cross-border paperless trade remains a challenge everywhere, even though the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted how useful it can be to exchange documents electronically to reduce physical contacts and the spread of the virus,” according to Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP. “I encourage all leaders to take advantage of all available global and regional mechanisms to make progress, such as the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement and the Framework Agreement on Facilitation of Cross-border Paperless Trade in Asia and the Pacific.”

2021 UN Global Survey on Digital and Sustainable Trade Facilitation_UNECE region_chart


The results are available at The global and regional reports, including the UNECE report, covering 44 countries across the Pan-European region, and detailed data analysis, will be published later this year.


Over a year into the pandemic, we have witnessed how a sweeping infectious disease and lockdown measures quickly deepened inequalities, hindering the progress that many have fought for years to achieve. One of the most striking examples is the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on women.

The pandemic is not gender-blind: Women are doing more domestic chores and family care than men. They have been more likely to lose jobs than male counterparts, and sectors that employ a higher share of women have been especially affected by the crisis.

A recent World Bank paper reveals that women-led businesses were also unequally affected by the crisis when compared to businesses led by men.   This is the case particularly in sectors that were hit hard by COVID-19, such as the hospitality industry, as well as in microbusinesses.

Since the onset of the pandemic, the World Bank has been conducting surveys with about 45,000 firms in 49 mostly low- and middle-income countries, to grasp the impact of the crisis on companies. To understand specifically its effects on women-led enterprises, we decided to look at survey data gathered from April to September 2020—arguably the most challenging months for many businesses around the globe. The results of this study—the first global assessment of gender differences in the impacts of COVID-19 on enterprises—were sobering.

For instance, in the hospitality industry, while men-led companies exhibited a 60 percent year-on-year drop in anticipated sales, those led by women estimated a 68 percent decrease (controlling for size, income, and the severity of the shock). Similarly, women-led businesses faced greater financial risk, with many reporting having less cash available to cover their costs than their male counterparts.

Despite the challenges, women-led businesses are responding to the COVID-19 crisis with resilience and innovation. In fact, our survey found that women-led small and microbusinesses were much more likely to increase the use of digital platforms compared to those led by men.   While firms globally are turning to technology to cope with the pandemic, it was encouraging to see that women-led microbusinesses are leading the charge.

In addition to asking businesses about the impact of the pandemic, we were curious to find out the extent to which they benefited from public support programs enacted by governments around the globe. Here, the gender gap remains. On average, women-led businesses were 2 percentage points less likely to report accessing public support compared to companies led by men.  This shows a need for policy makers to raise awareness among women-led businesses of the available support programs, as well as to better inform women managers and owners on how they may benefit from these policy measures.

The COVID-19 crisis is still evolving every minute. While vaccination campaigns across the world have helped businesses reopen and recover, it is vital for policy makers and the global development community to keep track of gender-disaggregated data on the impact of the pandemic on companies, especially those in hard-hit sectors. This information will be crucial as countries work to build a more equal and resilient economy.


Customs authorities in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) can leverage new technologies and innovations to boost their digital transformation and streamline foreign trade logistics. This, in turn, can help improve competitiveness and bolster the countries´ economic growth.

The pandemic highlighted the importance of trade and foreign trade logistics. In March 2020, COVID-19 transformed daily life as we knew it. Yet, trade has primarily withstood the disruptions caused by international transportation restrictions and social distancing policies. It has even grown substantially in some areas, such as e-commerce and online trade, for instance. According to an Amazon report, its international net sales increased by 28.3 percent between the first half of 2019 and the same period in 2020.

By shining the spotlight on the opportunities brought by digital transformation, the pandemic has put customs authorities and their response capacities to the test. The urgent need to clear the critical goods needed to respond to the health emergency while keeping regular trade flows moving forced authorities to transition to digital customs systems almost overnight.

Even before the pandemic hit, LAC was lagging North America, Europe, and Asia in implementing the commitments it had taken on under the World Trade Organization’s Trade Facilitation Agreement, according to 2019 data. Therefore, the region needs to create efficiencies in its international trade logistics.

LAC’s economic recovery depends mainly on how its foreign trade logistics perform, which rests on the appropriate physical and digital infrastructure and related transportation services.

Innovating and transforming customs administration through technology 

In response to these challenges, the new IDB publication Logistics in Latin America and the Caribbean: Opportunities, Challenges, and Lines of Action discusses some of the technologies that the region’s countries could implement to innovate and transform their customs administration.

The optimization, automation, and digitization of customs and border processes are among the areas that new technologies address. These factors are the cornerstones of modernization and lay the groundwork for generating the high-quality data needed to implement robust and effective risk management systems.

For example, the ability of customs to obtain, process, and analyze large amounts of quality data is key to strengthen regional value chains and make them agile and secure. Automation also requires other innovative components, such as electronic signatures and authentication mechanisms for internal and external users.

Another ingredient in the recipe for effective and efficient customs is the traceability of goods. New technologies like radio frequency identification systems (RFID), the Internet of Things (IoT), geolocation tools, electronic seals for container and trailer doors, and OCR license plate readers make it possible to track cargo, vehicles, and the people driving them.

These systems can be deployed at critical points such as production centers, bonded warehouses, and road corridors that connect land border crossings, seaports, and airports. One example is the system developed in Brazil to track and trace cargo vehicles, packaging, and products by integrating this data with electronic tax documents. Likewise, physical traceability can be accompanied by digitally documented data from each transaction.

The data that customs authorities capture has immense value for customs and border risk management by digitizing and associating them with freight and transportation documents (cargo manifests, bills of lading, customs declaration data, and electronic invoices). Once the data is captured, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and big data tools allow the processing and analysis of large volumes of information to identify patterns and potentially risky or fraudulent operations.

Coordinated Border Management based on the use of new technologies

For the benefit of supply chains and foreign trade logistics, it is also essential that the use of new technologies is carried out in the context of Coordinated Border Management between customs and other authorities involved in border processes.

This coordination is streamlined with interoperability between authorities and economic operators through Single Windows for Foreign Trade (SWs) or Port Community Systems to reduce times and costs for operators and increase control capacities. For example, the adoption of a SW system in Costa Rica is associated with a 1.4 percentage-point increase in the exports of companies that used the system compared to those that did not.

There is also an opportunity to promote and strengthen regional value chains through interoperability initiatives between customs systems and other border entities. These include the Central American Digital Trade Platform (PDCC) and the CADENA application, which uses blockchain to facilitate  data exchange from companies whose reliability has been certified, such as authorized economic operators.

Finally, these components would not be effective without functional infrastructure at the entry and exit points of goods at land borders, seaports, and airports. Likewise, the effect would not be the same if the infrastructure did not include advanced technological entry, exit, inspection, and monitoring systems. The Mexican customs authority’s Customs Technological Integration Project (PITA) is an example of a comprehensive technology-based border infrastructure intervention. The customs authorities of NicaraguaCosta Rica, and Panamá are following suit and implementing border crossing reform processes that cover border facilities and include the use of cutting-edge technologies, with support from the IDB.

IDB support for the modernization of customs and border management

Through the Trade and Investment Division of the Integration and Trade Sector of the IDB, we support an innovative agenda of projects to modernize customs and border management in LAC. Two examples of these are the digital transformation and automation projects for the customs authorities of Colombia and Peru, including smart traceability plans for cargo and vehicles. We are also providing support for regional initiatives involving the use of blockchain to exchange data between eight customs offices in LAC and the application of artificial intelligence to improve customs risk management in several countries, among other projects.

LAC countries should embrace the availability of new technologies, the fast-track innovation induced by the pandemic, and the support of international organizations, such as the IDB, to expedite the digital transformation of their customs administrations.


Addressing the Board of Directors meeting of the Aerospace Industries Association last week, ICAO Council President Salvatore Sciacchitano commented that the UN aviation agency’s Secretariat and governing Council “are acutely aware today of how important innovation will be to aviation recovery and sustainability in the pandemic’s aftermath.”

“This is why we’ve made the acceleration of effective standardization and regulation the highest priority for the coming years,” he emphasized, “so that the benefits of the numerous innovations on manufacturer drawing boards can be realized as quickly as prudent and possible for civil society and industry.”

President Sciacchitano expressed ICAO’s appreciation to the aerospace sector for the important contributions it has been making to the outcomes of the ICAO Council’s Aviation Recovery Task Force, or ‘CART’, providing details on the latest CART Phase III recommendations and amendments which were issued in March.

The Council President noted that the latest ICAO Economic Impact Analysis has revealed that international air transport is back to 2003 levels in terms of global seat capacity, and that while ICAO expects improvement in the global picture from the third quarter of 2021, it will be heavily dependent on the effectiveness of pandemic management and vaccination rollout.

“Some encouraging signs of recovery for international traffic have begun to emerge more recently, including via air travel corridors such as Australia and New Zealand have established,” he commented, “but admittedly these attempts are still being hampered at times by the unpredictable health factors which remain in play.”

President Sciacchitano updated the Board Members on the upcoming ICAO High-Level Conference on COVID-19, scheduled for this October, noting that the countries cooperating through ICAO clearly recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic is not only a health crisis – but also an economic and financial crisis, and one which presents governments with very difficult trade-offs in terms of the health, economic, and social priorities concerned.

“The High-Level Conference this October will address economic recovery priorities, seek to formalize new and stronger national commitments to assure that recovery, and feature specialized Safety streams where your community’s views will be appreciated,” he stated.

“We should recall in this respect that while the aerospace sector typically engages with national civil aviation authorities, the pandemic has now factored national health authorities into this framework as well. Your community will have a critical near-term role to play in assuring the more health-centric and disease-preventative cabin environment that governments, operators and passengers will be striving to assure for the post-pandemic air travel experience.”

The ICAO Council President further appreciated the many innovations which the aerospace sector is already helping to realize in renewable energy sources and new types of airframes and propulsion, noting that these will play a key role “in helping our sector meet the increasingly low-emission expectations of the post-pandemic passengers which airlines will be competing to attract.”

He underscored that he expected governments to arrive at the 42nd ICAO Assembly next year with clear expectations on what these health and environmental sustainability innovations will need to deliver, and on how the ICAO work programme will need to be tailored to aid that delivery.



The overarching objective of this course, as a deliverable under the “Global initiative towards post-Covid-19 MSME sector” project, is to build awareness and capacities of entrepreneurs, businesses and policy makers in Africa on the role that technology and innovation can play in assisting businesses address the impacts of economic shocks such as Covid-19 and build resilience against future shocks.

The course is intended to be practical rather than academic in content and to make use of case examples to highlight how technology-based and innovative applications can help firms in Africa survive, grow and remain competitive in times of crisis and be better prepared at addressing the impacts of future economic shocks. The course will endeavor to showcase best practices from other regions that can have useful applications for African businesses. Challenges that firms can face to access technology and engage in innovation will be discussed, while recognizing that technology and innovation on their own are not panaceas to addressing firms’ problems in times of crisis and should be complemented by other policy tools. The structure of the course is as follows:

  • Module 1 (1st week – whole or partial): Introduction to Technology & Innovation and Concepts of  Relevance for SMEs, including Entrepreneurship;
  • Module 2 (1st week – whole or partial): COVID-19 and its implications on MSMEs with a focus on Africa;
  • Module 3 (2nd week – whole or partial): The State of Technology and Innovation in the World;
  • Module 4 (3rd week – whole or partial): Technology and Innovation to Mitigate the Impacts of Covid-19 on African MSMEs;
  • Module 5 (4th week – whole or partial): Barriers to Access to Technology and Innovation in Africa and Policy Recommendations for Improving Access of African MSMEs to Technology and Innovation
Type : Online Course Self-paced Course
Programme Area :  Technology and Innovation
Beginning of the course :  July 12 – 12 August 2021
Duration : 4 Weeks
Language : English
Location : Web Based E-Learning
Fee : No Fee
Application Deadline :  June 25th, 2021
Specific target audience : No
Website :
Applications :

New World Bank report shows how data could make an impact, and offers pathways to do so

The creation, use, misuse and control of data is the subject of intense debate today, as it should be. Individuals still ponder how best to manage and protect their personal data, and governments, private businesses and international bodies may have informed data management policies, or none at all.

But decisions need to be made in this complicated landscape. And this is especially true for developing countries, which are largely left out of global data discussions but where the right data policies could bring a lot of benefits.

A new World Bank analysis, the World Development Report 2021: Data for Better Lives (WDR 2021), foregrounds lower-income countries and the ways they could gain, or lose, with data governance and management decisions. These are places, which include the least developed countries (LDCs), that may struggle with a host of issues from internet connectivity to conflict and instability that affect their capacity to collect, manage, store and govern their own data.

Information is flowing and growing at massive rates. In 2020, global internet traffic was estimated to be more than three zettabytes, or 3,000,000,000,000 gigabytes (GB). Picture this as two piles of books sitting on the Earth’s surface transmitted to the International Space Station every second.

And the speed of growth – including in data centers, in the services trade and in broadband – means that countries without the infrastructure, the plans and the policies can very quickly be left behind. Below is a snapshot of the report’s findings, with a focus on LDCs, trade and what could happen next.

Nations need data

Data can be a force to obtain development benefits, the World Bank report states, helping to drive economies, empower citizens and improve public services. For example, various countries marshalled cellular data to track the spread of COVID-19, including The Gambia, where the government used call detail records to help determine whether lockdowns were effective in reducing people’s movements.

The report notes that the creative use of data, of sharing and using and using again and combining different types, is a way to deliver more progress beyond the original intent of the data collection. Seeing data in this way, as having multiple purposes, can help to develop more insights that can lead to better impacts. Safely reusing and combining data from public and private sources while also applying modern analytical techniques allows data sets to be more precise and more time-sensitive.

Information about households can be used in a host of positive ways, including to identify community needs and to direct services accordingly. For example, Tanzania was able to create a more detailed map of its impoverished regions using household data combined with satellite imagery (see Figure 1).

Figure 1


Source: World Development Report 2021, Data for Better Lives. Tanzania, Mainland Poverty Assessment 2019: Executive Summary.” World Bank, Washington,

DC. Data at

But countries, and especially LDCs like The Gambia and Tanzania, face challenges with data collection, sharing and reuse, from having the human resources to weak regulatory environments and policies to awareness, incentives and funding. Because of this, governments may not have census figures, do surveys, digitize administrative records or support the development of other data sources.

“No low-income country has a fully funded national statistical plan, and that signals the chronic underinvestment in public intent data systems. This leads to data gaps that continue to exist for the most pressing development challenges,” said Malarvizhi Veerappan, Manager of the WDR 2021 and Senior Data Scientist at the World Bank Group. Of high-income countries, 93% have a fully funded national statistical plan.

She said, “For example, a tool being released with this report to help countries monitor the performance of their data systems, the Statistical Performance Indicators, reveals that half of low-income countries have not undertaken a population census in the last 10 years and 18% have not done so in the last 20 years.”

Quarterly or monthly industrial production indexes, which inform policy makers of current economic activity, are available in only 9% of low-income countries, compared with 64% of high-income countries, according to the tool.

These disparities highlight the need for action at many levels so gaps like these don’t continue to widen. The report notes that one way to solve this is by increasing financing for data, which requires, obviously, money, as well as understanding of the value of collecting, sharing and improving data flows. Financing for data can be an investment as well, the report notes.

New social contract for data

The report states, “data themselves won’t help lift people out of poverty. It’s the people using them that generate insights that can turn into action to improve development outcomes.”

A “social contract for data” is proposed, so data are better wielded to fight poverty across the world, supporting development in such ways as identifying civic needs, monitoring the impact of government policies and analyzing crop yields.

The report’s proposed social contract is formed around value, equity and trust. With value, safe collaborations between data creators and data users could form so that data can be shared, reused and combined for more insights and ideas. The equity element ensures that impoverished people and lower income countries are fully included and that they have access to the value that is and can be derived from data.

Trust that one’s data won’t be misused, hacked or employed to discriminate is paramount.

Having data governance environments helps to create that value, equity and trust, the report states. This includes four layers: 1) infrastructure like full broadband coverage, 2) laws and regulations like safeguards against misuse and standards for interoperability, 3) economic policies like trade in data-enabled services and taxation of businesses, and 4) institutions that regulate, oversee and work to secure data.

For countries to realize the full potential of data and facilitate greater reuse and repurposing of data requires better data systems supported by effective data governance environments. The report lays out an aspirational vision of an integrated national data system (INDS) to deliver on the promise of producing high-quality data that can be safely shared across governments, civil society, academics, individuals and the private sector.

Estonia is the closest to having an INDS, with strong central leadership and its X-Road system that allows public and private databases to automatically exchange information, ensuring confidentiality, integrity and interoperability among parties.

But, comprehensive data governance and well-functioning data systems are not the norm worldwide. There is no singular blueprint and every country will chart its own path. For example, Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography offers researchers data access through its Microdata Laboratory, which is located in secure enclaves on its premises, provided they undergo an application and training process. Nepal has made it a priority to teach people how to work with data with its Nepal Data Literacy Program, a course designed to support technical skills and enhance a culture of data use.

While most countries are still far away from achieving these goals, the journey is particularly difficult for LDCs, as well as low- and middle-income countries.

Digital trade

When it comes to trade, both trade in goods and trade in services would be improved with enhancements to data governance. Good data could help LDCs better understand their trade flows in order to improve them. Cross-border trade could be enhanced by transitioning to digitized procedures with customs and border management.

Trade in services is increasingly rapidly, but the data on it is not keeping up. The report notes that since 1990, the global trade in data-driven services has grown exponentially and now constitutes half of all trade in services (see Figure 2).

Figure 2

Source: WDR 2021 team calculations, based on World Bank, WITS (World Integrated Trade Solution) database, Data at Note: IP = Internet Protocol; PB = petabytes.


“One aspect that we highlight in the report is the irony that as trade in digital services expands around the world, our understanding of and our data on digital services is reduced because we don’t understand exactly the specific services sectors where the data comes from. And this is of course much more so the case in the developing world and in LDCs,” said Martin Molinuevo, Senior Counsel at the World Bank Group.

A whole of government approach to data, the report suggests, would help to improve the understanding of digital services trade.

Personal data across borders

“We see huge potential for value creation around trade and data-enabled services – it’s one of the fastest growing segments of trade. And so there is tremendous economic opportunity there. At the same time, trust in the transfer of personal data across borders is one of the key barriers to more of this type of data-enabled trade in services,” said Vivien Foster, Co-Director of the WDR 2021 and Chief Economist at the World Bank Group.

The report examines the various national policies around cross border personal data flows, categorizing them as open, conditional and limited. These flows are part of digital services trade, so if highly restricted by governments, that will impact the trade itself.

Most developing countries follow the open transfer approach, but this is more by default than an active policy stance, World Bank research found.

The open transfer model, in use by the United States, puts little regulatory burden on providers at both ends of the data transfer, so companies have freedom to share data when doing business. At the same time, there are few safeguards. The limited transfer model, in use by Russia and Nigeria, addresses security concerns, putting certain restrictions on data transfers, including requirements for local storage of data. The conditional model, in use by the European Union, falls somewhere in between, requiring government to certify the adequacy of the personal data  protection regime in the destination country (See Figure 3).

The cross-border rules of these models are associated with varying levels of digital services trade. The report finds that “open transfers” rules are associated with greater digital services trade, while the “limited transfers” approach has a negative correlation with digital services flows. The “conditional transfers” approach appears to offer mixed results in the empirical analysis.

Figure 3

Uptake of regulatory models to cross-border data flows


Source: WDR 2021 team, based on World Bank, Global Data Regulation Survey, Data at /WDR2021-Map-7_1.

Digital trade can also be boosted by domestic rules on data protection. The report finds that the “open transfers” approach is more strongly correlated to digital services when it is complemented with comprehensive rules on privacy and data protection. So the optimal regulatory approach to digital trade is a combination of flexible cross-border rules, as featured in the United States, with solid protections in the collection and treatment of personal data, as featured in the European Union, according to the report.

International rules and challenges ahead

“I think one of the concerns that low-income countries have about trading their data is whether they’re actually going to be able to capture any of the value themselves, or whether that economic benefit will entirely accrue to the foreign company that’s adding value to their data,” said Foster.

Global trade rules on data flows remain uncertain, with discussions of digital trade and cross-border data flows at the World Trade Organization (WTO) continuing. The report notes that only one low-income country, Burkina Faso, which is an LDC, has been part of the Joint Statement discussions on digital trade rules at the WTO.

LDCs and other developing countries have a lot to lose without data-focused frameworks in place, as data flows swell and new forms of trade take over. The report ends with a call to action for a global consensus so that data are used for the global public good and that they are wielded for equitable development, with a balance between the use of data for development and protections related to security and privacy concerns. Such a consensus couldn’t come sooner, considering the data we do have and what it says about the future.


For me, there is one word that has defined the past year: together.

During the emergency phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, we were stronger together. Now, we are working to build back better together as we slowly start to recover.

As a former regulator, I know that the best way to close the widening digital gap and achieve meaningful and inclusive connectivity for all is by working together.

That is why events like the recent ITU Policy and Economics Colloquium (IPEC-21) for Latin America and the Caribbean are vital in today’s quickly evolving telecommunications environment; they provide an opportunity for regional experts to share unique knowledge and experiences, and to develop effective partnerships to advance connectivity.

Held on 10 and 11 May, IPEC-21 gathered more than 260 stakeholders from across the Americas and other parts of the world to discuss financing for digital infrastructure and affordable ICT services, as well as access challenges and uses of the digital ecosystem. All this was in keeping with the concurrent Best Practice Guidelines consultations as part of the Global Symposium for Regulators (GSR).

Other topics covered at IPEC-21 included:
– Collaborative 5th Generation Regulation
– Regulatory and economic policies and strategies for information and communication technology (ICT) development in the Americas Region – and their COVID-19 implications;
– Economic and financial aspects of the digital ecosystem;
– Effective partnerships to advance connectivity and achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The regulatory aspect of COVID-19 recovery

Two newly released ITU publications explore regulatory challenges, and propose possible solutions to support connectivity in the post-COVID-19 era.

Pandemic in the Internet Age: From second wave to new normal, recovery, adaptation and resilience identifies what has worked – and what hasn’t – in ongoing efforts of the global ICT industry, national regulatory authorities, and private companies to keep us connected during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Analyzing over 500 experiences collected through the International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) flagship #REG4COVID platform since March 2020, the report recommends actions and regulatory measures aimed to get closer to a post-pandemic “normal”: addressing the digital divide; driving digital deepening; effecting digital transformation; and building digital resilience.

A second report, released during IPEC-21, The telecommunication industry in the post-COVID-19 world, considers longer-term ways to boost digital access and avoid leaving the unconnected ever further behind.

No “silver bullet” will solve the universal connectivity challenge. Countries need a mix of solutions to stimulate investment, increase affordability, and build digital skills.

The report explores promising new business models, innovative infrastructure and potential financing strategies to deliver universal connectivity in the post-COVID-19 world. It also outlines potential obstacles.

In parallel, the ITU/World Bank Digital Regulation Handbook is now available in a new Spanish-language version, along with all other UN languages. The handbook helps regulators and policy-makers navigate today’s fast-moving regulatory environment, providing practical guidance and best practices for informed decision-making to harness the benefits of the digital economy.

From recovery to acceleration

The ICT industry is now in recovery phase in relation to COVID-19.

But we must continue using the best practices acquired during the response stage to achieve our collective goal of meaningful and inclusive connectivity for all.

This sets the stage for what I would call the “acceleration” phase. The acceleration phase, too, requires coordinated global action.

This is why multi-stakeholder dialogues, like IPEC-21 and other upcoming Regional Regulatory Roundtables for the Global Regulators Symposium (GSR), are so important: they give us a platform to recover – and thrive – together.


Find more information on the Global Symposium for Regulators here.


Startup Uganda Challenge 2020 winners receive financial and in-kind support to scale up their solutions designed for underserved communities in Uganda.

In August 2020, at the height of the pandemic, UNCDF and Startup Uganda launched an Innovation Challenge to solve very specific problems close to the hearts of partners of this 2020 edition. Beyond financial support, the innovation challenge aimed to provide technical support for the startups, work closely with them to refine their solutions, unlock access to additional funding and make their solutions profitable.

In this blog we present the winners of the 2020 edition of the challenge organized with Startup Uganda. For a presentation of the partners of this edition of the challenge you can read the other blog here.

The winners and their projects

Pata Sente – Financial Health for MSME track winner

Conceived at a dairy farm in Mbarara district in 2015, Pata Sente offers a factoring platform for small businesses to buy or sell goods on favorable terms. Like Masha Dairy Cooperative, a farmers group that was the first user of this platform, small businesses often fail to meet the payment terms of their suppliers, workers and customers. They are also unable to get credit from banks because they are considered high risk, uncreditworthy and lack collateral.

Through this platform, small businesses starting with those in the dairy chain will be able to contract Patasente to deliver to them goods and services from their preferred suppliers which they can pay for later. Through engagement with the supplier, Pata Sente commits to pay on behalf of the small businesss –in part advance or fully on delivery. Through this solution, Pata Sente is enabling micro and small suppliers like farmers to sustainably earn an income from their output sales to buyers.

When asked what is next for Pata Sente, founder George Bakka says, “We are currently in an early growth stage. We are onboarding more buyers and principals (workers) on our platform as early scale to our solution.”

Famunera – Leveraging Last-mile Distribution Networks track winner

After three years of extensive research and development, Famunera launched in 2016 to serve millions of underserved smallholder farmers and become the ultimate destination for sourcing genuine, quality and affordable farm inputs and produce across Africa.

Famunera is working to address the challenge of poor quality farm inputs sourcing, delayed last-mile delivery, limited remote farming advisory support and lack of farm inputs traceability throughout production (from planting to harvest) for smallholder farmers. Famunera provides a user-friendly digital agro inputs marketplace powered by a USSD Code, Web App, Call Center and Express Last-mile Delivery System through which the underserved farmers can easily order farm inputs, access free expert farming advisory support, generate traceability reports throughout their production and get convenient last-mile delivery within 24 hours across Uganda.

On what’s next for Famunera, CEO Julius Enock Naika commented, “Famunera is working to raise a total investment of US$1.2 million in order to reach and serve over 1.5 million smallholder farmers across Uganda by 2023.”

Backspace Ivy – Digital Literacy track winner

Backspace Ivy is a female run IT consulting enabler and social innovation enterprise specialising in online digital training for underrepresented groups such as girls in STEM, youth, orphans, refugees, people with disabilities, women and young people. The company has developed a wifi-free pocket size smart learning kernel called smart booklet that allows people in rural communities to access video trainings to improve their digital and financial literacy.

Designed with the needs of the users in mind, the users do not need internet to access information and the device is solar rechargeable. Digital content preferably in audio visual form is uploaded on the device that can be shared within different households. The device can be used to deliver information, education and communication messages in a more adaptable, transformative, interactive and multilingual way.

On what’s next for Backspace Ivy, Carolyn Akello, the company’s Innovation and Digital Specialist says, “We are refining our business model further so that we can sustain our vision to digitally include underserved communities.”


The winning innovations won a cash prize of up US$20,000 each and technical support to take their solutions to the market and address the challenges identified by the anchor partners, which will in turn lead to sustainable inclusive development.

“UNCDF supports innovators that take into account the needs and circumstances of underserved communities. As the world is looking to digital solutions to improve their well-being, many people are in danger of being left behind. We are working towards an inclusive digital economy, where people who may not have the latest devices, fastest internet connectivity or the required digital skills can also be active participants in the digital economy,” said Chris Lukolyo, Digital Country Lead, UNCDF.

“We received so many inspiring and innovative solutions, and through this journey, we have had different members of Startup Uganda guide the innovators and help then to shape their ideas,” Jean Kukunda Vice Chairperson, Startup Uganda.

While there was only one winner for each track, partners have pledged to continue to give technical assistance to all the participants to be able to refine their ideas and business models to make them profitable.


UNCTAD will bring together experts to explore how science, technology and innovation (STI) can contribute to a sustainable and resilient recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, during a meeting of the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) from 17 to 21 May.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed will lead speakers in examining how STI can help rebuild health-care systems and socioeconomic structures post-COVID-19, while reducing inequalities laid bare by the pandemic.

“Indeed, science and technology have been central in the global fight against COVID-19,” Ms. Mohammed said. “Significant financial resources, strategically invested, will be required to ensure that development gains are not reversed.”

Ms. Mohammed said the recovery from the pandemic provides an opportunity to focus on three key transitions that are highly dependent on STI: speeding up the transition to renewable energy, transforming the way the world produces, consumes and thinks about food, and ensuring an inclusive digital future.

Other speakers at the 24th session of the CSTD will include the president of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Munir Akram; the president of the 75th UN General Assembly, Volkan Bozkır; the secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union, Houlin Zhao; a Nobel laureate in chemistry, Jennifer Doudna; and a senior vice president of BioNTech RNA Pharmaceuticals, Katalin Karikó.

Need to prioritize science, technology and innovation

“The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the pressing need to prioritize STI in terms of policymaking, resource allocation and international cooperation,” said Shamika N. Sirimanne, UNCTAD’s director of technology and logistics, who also heads the CSTD secretariat.

“But governments also need to make sure that the development benefits of STI translate directly into the daily lives of people all over the world,” Ms. Sirimanne said.

Moreover, Ms. Sirimanne added, it’s vital for all countries to have equal access to the benefits of life-saving treatments, not only for the pandemic but also for poverty-related diseases, future health emergencies and infectious disease outbreaks.

Closing the gap on good health and well-being

This year’s CSTD session will first address the theme “Using science, technology and innovation to close the gap on Sustainable Development Goal 3, on good health and well-being.”

Experts will examine opportunities offered by frontier technologies, some of which are used to respond to the pandemic – such as artificial intelligence, big data and robotics.

While these technologies can enable developing countries to leapfrog previous technological paradigms and transform their economies and societies, these nations – especially least developed ones – are generally not ready to apply them due to resource and capacity constraints.

Also, there is a serious risk that frontier technologies may exacerbate existing inequalities or create

new digital divides between technology haves and have-nots, according to the UNCTAD Technology and Innovation Report 2021.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has already highlighted many manifestations of profound digital inequalities within and among countries,” Ms. Sirimanne said.

She said proactive policy interventions, the mobilization of all stakeholders and international cooperation are needed to set the direction of STI advances towards a sustainable and resilient recovery from the pandemic.

Blockchain for development

The CSTD session will also address the theme “Harnessing blockchain for sustainable development: prospects and challenges.”

In an increasingly digitalized economy and society, the security and accountability of data transactions are critical elements for creating trust and enabling breakthrough innovations in the digital world.

In this regard, blockchain technology could be a game-changer, with the potential to revolutionize processes from finance to pharmaceutical industries, from government public services to humanitarian work and development aid, says an UNCTAD paper.

Blockchain serves as the base technology for cryptocurrency, enabling open (peer-to-peer), secure and fast transactions. The application of blockchain has expanded to include various financial transactions such as online payments and exchange platforms, as well as Internet of Things (IoT), health systems and supply chains.

However, the UNCTAD paper says issues associated with scalability, privacy concerns, uncertain regulatory standards and difficulties posed by the technology in integration with existing applications are some of the potential market constraints.

“While we have seen a few examples of blockchain’s potential to address sustainable development challenges, we need to avoid hype and make sure we understand how the potential of blockchain can be turned into effective answers to the needs of developing countries,” Ms. Sirimanne said.

Progress on summit on information society

The CSTD session will also review the progress made in the implementation of the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).

Last year was a testing ground for progress towards the implementation of the WSIS outcomes.

Digital technologies have played a crucial role in addressing the pandemic and enabling resilience in many ways. These include the use of big data and artificial intelligence for public health interventions and the use of digital services to expedite infection monitoring and testing.

Other trends include the use of the internet and videoconference platforms for work and education and the expanded use of e-commerce and online entertainment platforms.

“On the other hand, those who lack affordable connectivity have been severely disadvantaged during this pandemic,” Ms. Sirimanne said.

She said other challenges that have emerged include widespread misinformation and disinformation, privacy and data protection and cybersecurity.

The CSTD session will include a round-table discussion for high-level policymakers to exchange experiences, lessons learned and good practices, and to discuss challenges faced at national, regional and international levels, as well as those affecting specific groups.

Science, technology and innovation policies for development

The commission also seeks to raise awareness, stimulate a policy dialogue among stakeholders about the role of STI in national development and encourage stronger linkages among them.

It will include a session entitled “Applying a gender lens to STI policies in the 21st century” and presentations of science, technology and innovation policy reviews of the Dominican Republic, Uganda and Zambia.

About the CSTD

The CSTD is a subsidiary body of ECOSOC and the UN focal point for STI for development, in analysing how STI, including information and communications technologies, serve as enablers of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

It acts as a forum for strategic planning, sharing lessons learned and best practices, providing foresight about critical trends in STI in key sectors of the economy, the environment and society, and drawing attention to emerging and disruptive technologies.

Participants at this year’s session will include ministers and representatives of governments, civil society, the business community, academia and international and regional organizations. Most UN member states will be represented by high-level delegations.


In 2017, UNCDF partnered with Prabhu Management to digitalize the dairy value chain in Nepal which helped bring previously unbanked farmers into the financial ecosystem.

The pilot project that started with four dairy cooperatives in two districts (Kavre and Bhaktapur) digitalized over 20 cooperatives by 2020 with nearly 5,000 dairy farmers registered on the mobile wallet, and more than 1500 farmers receiving their earnings digitally.

The digitalization of the dairy cooperatives ended the manual process of tracking information and improved efficiency which in turn helped farmers in more ways than one. For one thing it brought farmers into the financial ecosystem and for another it saved farmers time and money on travel as the closest bank in rural Nepal can be miles away. It made payment secure for both the farmers and the cooperatives. Above all, it significantly minimized payment delays which was beneficial to farmers in reducing financial distress particularly in the wake of COVID- 19.

In March 2020, Nepal enforced strict preemptive lockdown for three months to prevent the transmission of COVID-19. This measure severely impacted businesses across industries including agriculture. The restrictions in mobility and social distancing paved the way for rapid adoption of digital technologies worldwide. To understand the impact of dairy digitalization during the pandemic and the future outlook for the agriculture sector, UNCDF analyzed the data of the farmers and their cooperatives. The data provided insight on how digitalization has helped smallholder farmers cope with the many challenges imposed by the pandemic and the ensuing lockdown. The analysis also shows that the pandemic was a trigger in the adoption of digital technologies by the farmers.

Digital wallet proved invaluable to farmers during COVID-19

The data from Prabhu Management shows a spike of nearly 600 percent in the usage of digital financial services (DFS) during the COVID-19 lockdown period. The average number of transactions in this period increased from 357 per month to 2,434 transactions, while the average number of users per month also increased by 300 percent. Furthermore, nearly 56 percent of the farmers used for the first time DFS services during the lockdown period.

This analysis indicates the latent demand and acceptability of financial services in rural areas. Additionally, it confirms that grassroot organizations such as cooperatives were a vital lifeline for farmers throughout the pandemic.

Usage of bank channels increased seven times at the start of the lockdown

Many countries have reported an increase in the usage of formal financial channels during the lockdown period. The data from the cooperatives revealed a similar pattern for farmers too, showing a seven-time increase in the usage of banking channels for deposits and withdrawals during the lockdown period. Most of the users preferred banking channels to cash out their wallet balance during the initial months of lockdown. This shows that users generally prefer using bank channels to transfer the received amount to their bank accounts.

Agents played a critical role in onboarding farmers

DFS agents such as cooperatives and other community-based organizations have been key in bridging the gap between farmers and formal financial channels. Users’ data show that nearly 58 percent of the cash coming into the wallet is through DFS agent channels such as onboarded cooperatives, merchants, and agents via the Prabhu platform. Also, nearly 42 percent of cash coming into the wallet is from other digital sources such as bank transfers (16 percent), mobile banking (16 percent) and remittances (10 percent). This indicates that due to the financial services offered by these grassroots organizations, farmers were able to use other digital channels as per their need, hence, broadening their financial access.

Farmers are using the digital wallet for additional services

The analysis shows that farmers have started to use digital payments for additional services such as agriculture inputs, insurance payments, etc. This demonstrates that there is a possibility and need for broadening the ecosystem with relevant merchants and new services. Farmers are ready for the expansion of the services provided at the tip of their fingers on their phones, it is now a matter of building their awareness.

The surge in the use of digital wallet has proven that the digitalization of dairy cooperatives has helped many smallholder farmers weather the pandemic. While COVID-19 is still running its course, the analysis underscores the importance of digital literacy and digital financial services, especially in rural Nepal.

Read more about digitalizing dairy cooperatives in Nepal


We are living through a decisive moment. The COVID-19 pandemic’s devasting impact is reaching every corner of the world. As we look back at this period, we will see history divided into a pre-COVID and a post-COVID world.

And a defining feature of the post-COVID world will be the digital transformation that has permeated every aspect of our lives. Chief Technology Officers can say that the pandemic has done their job for them, accelerating the digitalization of economies and societies at an unimaginable pace.

The digital transformation has gone hand in hand with the rise of digital technologies. These technologies have supported governments to implement social protection schemes at pace and scale. They have enabled e-health and online education, and they are helping businesses continue to operate and trade through digital finance and e-commerce.

However, ensuring that the digital transformation happening all around us does not become another facet of the deep inequalities of the countries in Asia and the Pacific is probably one of the greatest challenges we face as countries start to rebuild.

That is why inclusion must be at the heart of digital transformation if the promise to “leave no one behind” is to be met. In particular, we need to embed inclusive objectives in the four core foundations of the digital economy: Internet access, digital skills, digital financing and e-commerce.

Chances are you are reading this on your laptop or mobile phone, giving you access to the digital world. It is hard for most of us to imagine what life would be like during the pandemic if we didn’t. Sadly, this is a reality for over 2 billion people in the Asia-Pacific region. And among those two billion are some of the most vulnerable groups. For example, some 20 per cent of students in East Asia and the Pacific and almost 40 per cent of students in South and West Asia could not access remote learning this past year. This will have lasting effects that perpetuate inter-generational inequality and poverty.

To address the digital divide, our Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway initiative focuses on four interrelated pillars: infrastructure connectivity, efficient Internet traffic and network management, e-resilience, and affordable broadband access for all.

However, Internet access alone is not enough. There is a persistent and still expanding digital skills gap in the Asia-Pacific region. Among the top ten most digitally advanced economies in Asia and the Pacific, around 90 per cent of their populations use the Internet. At the beginning of the century, this share stood at around 25 per cent. By contrast, for the bottom ten economies, Internet users have grown from around 1 per cent in 2000 to only 20 per cent today.

In response, our Asian and Pacific Training Centre for Information and Communication Technology for Development is equipping policymakers and women and youth with digital skills by conducting demand-driven training programmes.

On digital finance, while the percentage of digital payment users has increased over recent years, the gap between men and women users persists. Additionally, in East Asia and the Pacific, there is a US$1.3 trillion formal financing gap for women-led enterprises.

And while the Asia-Pacific region is emerging as a leading force in the global e-commerce market – with more than 40 per cent of the global e-commerce transactions – these gains have been led by just a few markets.

As a response, our Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship project addresses the challenges women-owned enterprises face by developing innovative digital financing and e-commerce solutions to support women entrepreneurs, who have been hit harder than most during the pandemic. We have supported a range of digital finance and e-commerce solutions through this initiative – such as a digital bookkeeping app and an agritech solution – providing more inclusive options for women entrepreneurs to thrive. To date, the project has supported over 7,000 women to access financing and leveraged over US$50 million in private capital for women entrepreneurs.

Inclusion is undoubtedly central to the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Pacific’s (ESCAP) technology and innovation work that focuses on addressing the core foundations of an inclusive digital economy.

The recent ESCAP, ADB and UNDP report on “Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic: Leaving No country Behind” underlined the key role digital technologies played during the pandemic and how they can also play a critical role in building back better. However, the report shows that digitalization can also widen gaps in economic and social development within and between countries, unless countries can provide affordable and reliable Internet for all and make access to the core foundations of the digital economy central to building back better.

While digital transformation is certain, its direction is not. Governments, civil society and the private sector must work together to ensure that digital technologies benefit not only the economy but society and the environment, and have inclusion at their heart. Only then do we stand a chance of realizing the transformative potential of digital technologies to accelerate progress on the Sustainable Development Goals.


At the heart of the digital divide is a yawning innovation gap. Many national policies and strategies — even in developed countries — often fail to close it.

This has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, putting countries with low digital technological capabilities at an increasingly significant risk of marginalization.

The result?

Talent is unfulfilled, small- and medium-sized enterprises are struggling, and slow digital transformation of communities is hampering progress on reaching the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The question is: how can we foster innovation to ensure that advances in fields such as artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things, and mobile communications are widely and fairly distributed?

The role of standards

International standards are part of the answer. They are an essential aid for developing countries to build their infrastructure and stimulate economic development. Standards development must underpin global efforts to build back better from the pandemic.

Standards also drive competitiveness — not just for individual businesses, but throughout the entire global economy — by fostering efficiency, effectiveness, responsiveness, and innovation.

Standards development has been central to the work of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) for over 150 years, from the telegraph to fifth-generation (5G) mobile technologies.

Each new technical standard normally stems from a collaborative process of several years between ITU Member States, equipment manufacturers, network operators, standards development organizations and academia.

Most recently, ITU published the detailed specifications for IMT-2020 radio interface technologies, which can leverage the advantages of 5G for a wider range of uses, from autonomous vehicles to smart cities.

This builds on the innovative 5G applications we have already seen in healthcare, public safety, manufacturing, and education during the pandemic.

Collaborative spirit

Building trust is at the heart of all that we do in the standards community. The collaborative spirit, exemplified by ITU’s public-private membership, is why I am pleased to participate in events like the United Nations Multi-Stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation, together with eminent speakers from government, the private sector, academia and civil society.
Multi-stakeholder co-operation is also characteristic of a major ITU-led forum, the World Summit on the Information Society.

COVID-19 continues disrupting progress on all aspects of sustainable development as well as inflicting loss of life and damage to livelihoods around the world. Consequently, the need for collaboration, cooperation and coordination across sectors and borders has never been more important than today.

In challenging times, we each need to bring our own specific competencies to the table, avoid duplication of efforts, and pool resources to build vibrant digital-innovation ecosystems.

What is at stake, ultimately, is nothing less than the future of our economies, our societies, and our planet. The enabling technologies for digital transformation can be harnessed to put the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development back on track.

Only then can we turn today’s digital revolution into a true human development revolution for all.

Based on Mr Johnson’s remarks during the sixth annual Multi-stakeholder Forum on Science Technology and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals (STI Forum), where he opened a virtual side event, “Fostering STI Ecosystems for Impact: Enabling Technologies Advancing Human Infrastructure”.


Heads of WTO member delegations today exchanged views about issues on which they can realistically reach agreements in the run-up to the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) later this year, and what needs to happen to make such deals possible. Fisheries subsidies, agriculture and the COVID-19 pandemic featured prominently in the discussions, with several members stressing that delivering concrete negotiated results was critical for the WTO’s credibility. The 3 May gathering was both a formal session of the Trade Negotiations Committee and an informal meeting of Heads of Delegation.


Summing up members’ interventions at the end of the day, WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said what she had heard matched what she had been told in her own consultations: “Views are coalescing around the most feasible priorities for delivery between now and MC12 — although of course there are gaps on how we get there and on the content of prospective results.”

She said three concrete deliverables stood out: an agreement to curb harmful fisheries subsidies; outcomes on agriculture, with a focus on food security; and a framework that would better equip the WTO to support efforts against the COVID-19 pandemic and future health crises.

Looking to the weeks and months ahead, the Director-General expressed hope that by July members would be able to finalize an agreement on fisheries subsidies and achieve clarity about what can be delivered by MC12, scheduled to run from 30 November to 3 December in Geneva.

On fisheries subsidies, she urged members to exercise the necessary flexibility to overcome the remaining hurdles. With ministerial involvement likely required to finalize an agreement in July, she called on delegations to work with the chair of the negotiations, Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia, to prepare a draft negotiating text with a minimal number of outstanding issues for ministers to resolve. “We are almost there, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” she said, stressing she stood ready to help members and the chair translate increased flexibility into an agreement.

Noting that for many members, meaningful outcomes on agriculture were necessary to make MC12 a success, DG Okonjo-Iweala said that the pandemic, and rising hunger around the world, made a strong case for a WTO “food security package”. Elements for a prospective package included public stockholding, the proposed exemption from export restrictions of World Food Programme humanitarian purchases, domestic support and transparency, with some delegations also raising cotton and the special safeguard mechanism.

The Director-General welcomed the view expressed by many delegations that MC12 can deliver concrete responses on trade and health. The WTO’s spotlight on export restrictions and the need to increase vaccine production volumes was gaining attention and engagement from leaders, she said.

Reporting on a 14 April event where vaccine manufacturers, international organizations, civil society and members looked at how the WTO could contribute to efforts to combat the global scarcity of COVID-19 vaccines, she said it was clear that underused manufacturing capacity existed in several developing countries.

DG Okonjo-Iweala praised members’ support to India amid the upsurge in COVID-19 cases there, which followed India’s own exports of a large number of vaccines. “That is what the WTO membership should be about — working together, supporting each other,” she said. She asked members to bring the same sense of common purpose to bear on engaging in text-based negotiations on the TRIPS waiver proposal aimed at finding a pragmatic compromise that works for all.

With regard to dispute settlement, where many members called for resolution to the impasse over the Appellate Body, the Director-General expressed hope that by MC12 members “can reach a shared understanding on the types of reforms needed”.

The General Council chair, Ambassador Dacio Castillo of Honduras, is consulting on proposals about issues specific to least-developed countries such as the G-90 proposals on special and differential treatment as well as on small economies and areas such as the e-commerce Work Programme, she said.

She noted that groups of members had signalled a desire to move ahead in areas such as services domestic regulation, e-commerce, investment facilitation, women’s economic empowerment, micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises as well as issues related to trade and climate change.

For issues not in a position to be concluded this year, the Director-General said members had called for post-MC12 work programmes on multilateral issues relating to agriculture, services, and special and differential treatment as well as in joint statement initiatives in areas including plastics pollution and environmental sustainability.

DG Okonjo-Iweala said that in the coming days, she would intensify her own outreach with heads of delegation, organizing meetings “in various configurations large and small” to support the chairs of negotiating groups in their efforts to broker compromise among members. She reiterated her commitment to ensuring adequate representation and transparency in these meetings. “Nothing will be done behind closed doors that people don’t know about,” she emphasised. She indicated that she would work closely with the General Council chair and the chairs of the negotiating bodies as well as MC12 chair Kazakhstan to conduct these meetings.

Emphasising the tight timeframe for members to resolve their outstanding differences, the Director-General said the “path to July” would involve a large number of intensive meetings aimed at narrowing gaps. “Week in, week out, this is what we will do now.”


The pandemic has, however, resulted in mixed fortunes for some e-commerce companies, reversing the profits of firms offering services such as ride-hailing and travel.

The dramatic rise in e-commerce amid movement restrictions induced by COVID-19 increased online retail sales’ share of total retail sales from 16% to 19% in 2020, according to estimates in an UNCTAD report published on 3 May.

UNCTAD released the report as it hosted a two-day meeting on measuring e-commerce and the digital economy.

According to the report, online retail sales grew markedly in several countries, with the Republic of Korea reporting the highest share at 25.9% in 2020, up from 20.8% the year before (Table 1).

Meanwhile, global e-commerce sales jumped to $26.7 trillion globally in 2019, up 4% from 2018, according to the latest available estimates.

This includes business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) sales, and is equivalent to 30% of global gross domestic product (GDP) that year.

“These statistics show the growing importance of online activities. They also point to the need for countries, especially developing ones, to have such information as they rebuild their economies in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Shamika Sirimanne, UNCTAD’s director of technology and logistics.


Table 1: Online retail sales, selected economies, 2018-2020

Economy Online retail sales

($ billions)

Retail sales

($ billions)

Online share

(% of retail sales)

2018 2019 2020 2018 2019 2020 2018 2019 2020
Australia 13.5 14.4 22.9 239 229 242 5.6 6.3 9.4
Canada 13.9 16.5 28.1 467 462 452 3.0 3.6 6.2
China 1,060.4 1,233.6 1,414.3 5,755 5,957 5,681 18.4 20.7 24.9
Korea (Rep.) 76.8 84.3 104.4 423 406 403 18.2 20.8 25.9
Singapore 1.6 1.9 3.2 34 32 27 4.7 5.9 11.7
United Kingdom 84.0 89.0 130.6 565 564 560 14.9 15.8 23.3
United States 519.6 598.0 791.7 5,269 5,452 5,638 9.9 11.0 14.0
Economies above 1,770 2,038 2,495 12,752 13,102 13,003 14 16 19

Source: UNCTAD, based on national statistics offices.


Mixed fortunes for some firms

The COVID-19 pandemic has also resulted in mixed fortunes for leading B2C e-commerce companies, according to the UNCTAD report.

Data for the top 13 e-commerce firms, 11 of which are from China and the United States, shows a notable reversal of fortunes for platform companies offering services such as ride-hailing and travel (Table 2).

All of them experienced sharp declines in gross merchandize value (GMV) and corresponding drops in ranks.

For instance, Expedia fell from 5th place in 2019 to 11th in 2020, Booking Holdings from 6th to 12th and Airbnb, which launched its initial public offering in 2020, from 11th to 13th.

Despite the reduction in services companies’ GMV, total GMV for the top 13 B2C e-commerce companies rose by 20.5% in 2020, higher than in 2019 (17.9%). There were particularly large gains for Shopify (up 95.6%) and Walmart (72.4%). Overall, B2C GMV for the top 13 companies stood at $2.9 trillion in 2020.


Table 2: Top B2C e-commerce companies by GMV, 2020

Rank by GMV Company HQ Industry GMV

($ billions)

GMV change


2020 2019 2018 2019 2020 2018-19 2019-20
1 1 Alibaba China E-commerce 866 954    1,145 10.2 20.1
2 2 Amazon USA E-commerce 344 417 575 21.0 38.0
3 3 China E-commerce 253 302 379 19.1 25.4
4 4 Pinduoduo China E-commerce 71 146 242 104.4 65.9
5 9 Shopify Canada Internet Media & Services 41 61 120 48.7 95.6
6 7 eBay USA E-commerce 90 86 100 -4.8 17.0
7 10 Meituan China E-commerce 43 57 71 33.0 24.6
8 12 Walmart USA Consumer goods retail 25 37 64 47.0 72.4
9 8 Uber USA Internet Media & Services 50 65 58 30.5 -10.9
10 13 Rakuten Japan E-commerce 30 34 42 13.6 24.2
11 5 Expedia USA Internet Media & Services 100 108 37 8.2 -65.9
12 6 Booking Holdings USA Internet Media & Services 93 96 35 4.0 -63.3
13 11 Airbnb USA Internet Media & Services 29 38 24 29.3 -37.1
Companies above 2,035 2,399 2,890 17.9 20.5

Source:  UNCTAD based on company reports.
Note: Alibaba year beginning 1 April, Walmart year beginning 1 February. Figures in italics are estimates. GMV = Gross Merchandize Value (as well as Booking Value).


Business-to-business sales dominate e-commerce

The report estimates the value of global B2B e-commerce in 2019 at $21.8 trillion, representing 82% of all e-commerce, including both sales over online market platforms and electronic data interchange (EDI) transactions.

The United States continued to dominate the overall e-commerce market, ahead of Japan and China (Table 3).

B2C e-commerce sales were estimated at $4.9 trillion in 2019, up 11% over 2018. The top three countries by B2C e-commerce sales remained China, the United States and the United Kingdom.

Cross-border B2C e-commerce amounted to some $440 billion in 2019, an increase of 9% over 2018. The UNCTAD report also notes that the share of online shoppers making cross-border purchases rose from 20% in 2017 to 25% in 2019.


Table 3: E-commerce sales: Top 10 countries, 2019

Rank Economy Total e-commerce sales

($ billions)

Share of total e-commerce sales in GDP (%) B2B e-commerce sales

($ billions)

Share of B2B e-commerce sales in total e-commerce (%) B2C e-commerce sales

($ billions)

1 United States 9,580 45   8,319 87   1,261
2 Japan 3,416 67   3,238 95      178
3 China 2,604 18   1,065 41   1,539
4 Korea (Rep.) 1,302 79   1,187 91      115
5 United Kingdom     885 31      633 72      251
6 France     785 29      669 85      116
7 Germany     524 14      413 79      111
8 Italy     431 22      396 92        35
9 Australia     347 25      325 94        21
10 Spain     344 25      280 81        64
10 above 20,218 36 16,526 82   3,691
World 26,673 30 21,803   4,870

Source: UNCTAD, based on national sources.
Note: Figures in italics are UNCTAD estimates.


E-commerce firms perform poorly in digital inclusion

Despite e-commerce firms’ sizeable fortunes, an index released by the World Benchmarking Alliance in December last year rated them poorly on digital inclusion.

The index ranked 100 digital companies, including 14 e-commerce firms, based on how they contribute to access to digital technologies, building digital skills, enhancing trust and fostering innovation.

E-commerce enterprises underperformed compared to companies in other digital industries such as hardware or telecommunication services.

For instance, the highest-ranked e-commerce company was eBay at 49th place. Overall, e-commerce companies obtained a score of just 20 out of a possible 100.

According to the UNCTAD report, a main factor for the poor performance is that e-commerce companies are relatively young, typically founded only in the last two decades.

“These firms have been more focused on shareholders rather than engaging with a wide group of stakeholders and compiling metrics on their environmental, social and governance performance,” the report says.

Nonetheless, there are some bright spots. For instance, several e-commerce companies provide free training to entrepreneurs on how to sell online including in some cases, specifically targeted at vulnerable groups such as people with disabilities or ethnic minorities.


The COVID-19 pandemic has hit hard the economies of many African countries, and pushed many more citizens into poverty, but some countries like Rwanda and Togo have used digitization to keep their economies running.

Speaking during the launch of a Pan-African peer exchange series on the benefits of responsible digital government payments, the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Ms. Vera Songwe said the pandemic had a huge toll on African economies with GDP growth estimated to have dropped from 3.3% in 2019 to -2.6% in 2020. It is, however, anticipated that growth would return to 3.3% in 2021.

The ECA further estimates that about 100 million people have been pushed into poverty by the pandemic, Ms. Songwe said, adding the scars of COVID-19 were going to ‘remain with us for a very long time’.

Digitization, the ECA Chief said, presented opportunities for African countries to lift the poor out of poverty.

“Digitizing tax payments and related processes can raise additional resources for African governments to fight COVID-19 and help move countries back to growth,” said Ms. Songwe in opening remarks during the launch of the series that will see policymakers sharing challenges and successes and set a high bar for what can be accomplished on the continent through digitization of government payments.

“As economies digitalize, the benefits from digital payments and e-commerce multiply, thereby accelerating recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, sustaining development, and facilitating achievement of the sustainable development goals, through taxes and wages, among others.”

The ECA has been in the forefront, nudging African countries to turn to and accelerate digitization to not only keep their economies running, but to also respond to the rise in poverty among marginalized citizens.

 Ms. Songwe congratulated Togo and Rwanda for using digitization to manage the pandemic in a way that would have been impossible if there were no digital platforms, including social protection cash payments to cushion citizens from the effects of the crisis.

Sharing her country’s experience of using digital cash transfers to citizens during the pandemic, Ms. Cina Lawson, Togo’s Postal Affairs and Digital Economy Minister, said they built a USSD platform in 10 days, and people who registered, didn’t need Internet connection to connect.

“We had 1. 6 million Togolese registering on this platform. From onboarding to receiving cash, it was all digital. If the platform deemed you eligible, you would straight away receive an SMS with the money. It takes a minute from onboarding to receiving cash,” she said.

The number of people who registered onto the platform represented about 44% of the population, and 840,000 people became beneficiaries, which is approximately 22% of all Togolese, explained Ms. Lawson.

She said the platform guaranteed transparency as transactions were traceable. An independent firm was hired to audit the transfers daily. The country is using the same platform to register citizens for COVID-19 vaccinations.

For his part, Rwanda’s Minister of State, National Treasury, Mr. Richard Tusabe, in sharing his country’s experience with digitization, spoke about the ‘Ejoheza savings scheme’, an inclusive scheme which targets both salaried and non-salaried workers and has a social component. He said about 95% of Rwandan citizens are not covered in any pension scheme hence the need for the savings scheme which came in handy during the pandemic.

“So, to capture the 95 per cent to start to save and be able to retire with dignity, Ejoheza was started in December 2018. It is also a USSD platform. The government then set up a matching fund, and when you save up to $18, the government gives you a matching equivalent,” said Mr. Tusabe.

The two ministers shared experiences, challenges, and good practices and undertook to keep learning from each other’s experiences in using digital innovations to improve the productivity of businesses and ensure positive economy-wide benefits.

In her remarks, Ms. Ruth Goodwin-Groen, Managing Director of the United Nation’s Better Than Cash Alliance, commended the two countries saying; “This is what we need. You understood what your citizens needed, and you responded quickly with responsible digital payments.”

Ms. Goodwin-Groen lauded the partnership with the ECA to launch the series, adding this was a unique opportunity for governments to convene and collaborate by sharing experiences, challenges, and key learnings from responsibly digitizing payments.

The launch will be followed by a series of three round-table workshops over the next two months for policymakers only. Each round-table workshop is specifically designed to focus on a critical aspect of digital government payment, such as Government to People (G2P) and People to Government (P2G), for example tax, pension, and health care. The final session will share insights and recommendations from the workshop participants and will be an open session.

Click here to access the series launch recording:


Trade has a critical role to play in rebuilding developing and least developed countries’ economies, alleviating rising poverty and creating a greener, more inclusive future for all. This was a unifying theme that ran through three days of panels discussions and debates at the Aid-for-Trade Stocktaking event the World Trade Organization (WTO) hosted online from March 23 to 25.

Covid-19 has reversed 30 years of development gains, deepening inequalities from the household to country level and threatening to push 150 million into extreme poverty, WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala noted in an opening plenary session that also brought together leaders from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), UNCTAD, World Bank and World Health Organization (WHO).

The opportunity to take stock of Aid for Trade’s progress so far and steer its future direction comes at a critical juncture, especially for those least developed countries (LDCs) that were hit hardest by the steepest fall in global trade on record and have benefited least from its rebound. “The post-Covid recovery must not leave anyone or any country behind,” she stressed.

Here are 6 takeaways from the event:

Invest in pharmaceutical supply chains and ensure equitable access to vaccines

With just 10 countries receiving 76% of the Covid-19 vaccines administered globally by the time of the event, ensuring more equitable access is critical. Ramping up vaccine production by investing more in LDCs’ and developing countries’ manufacturing capacity would help, as would boosting trade cooperation to address supply bottlenecks and lowering regulatory hurdles to facilitate vaccine purchases.

The creation of geographically diverse medical supply chains represents an opportunity for export-oriented investment in many low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), argued Okonjo-Iweala. Finding a way to share certain intellectual property rights while incentivising research and development will also improve resilience in the face of future health crises, she added.

Speakers at other sessions highlighted a need for regulatory mechanisms to support developing countries’ integration with global supply chains as well as the free movement of skilled workers. LDCs also need support in pivoting existing manufacturing capacity to meet the needs of medical and pharmaceutical supply chains, which will additionally help their economies diversify. For example, Ethiopia, Madagascar, South Africa, and Vietnam boast robust textile industries that could help meet surging demand for personal protective equipment, noted Spring Gombe of the UN Technology Bank for LDCs.

Expand LDCs’ access to finance with innovative tools and capacity building

Identifying innovative, sustainable sources of funding is vital for LDCs’ recoveries, speakers agreed. Although Aid-for-Trade funding to LDCs has grown 13% annually since 2006, reaching $13.5 billion in 2018, the pandemic threatens to slow or reverse this trend. Some OECD scenarios envision an up to $14 billion decline in official development assistance at a time when the pandemic is widening the $1.5 trillion trade finance gap.

Solutions highlighted by the IFC included risk-sharing facilities with first-loss guarantees, and blended concessional finance, for example through the IDA Private Sector Window.

Just 6% of private finance mobilised by blended finance in 2012-2018 however went to LDCs, noted Olivier Cattaneo from the OECD. He called for a higher proportion of grant funding within Aid for Trade, more equity investment rather than loans from the private sector, plus greater focus on capacity building to help LDCs navigate the thousands of instruments now on offer.

A new series of Trade Funding Insight briefs from the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) aims to help here. The EIF has also partnered with the Islamic Trade Finance Corporation (ITFC) to offer technical assistance and capacity building around trade and trade finance to financial institutions in LDCs.

Several speakers also called for debt relief, noting that plunging incomes and investments in economic stimulus are pulling more into debt distress.

Facilitate trade with supportive regulatory frameworks

The importance of eradicating tariff and non-tariff barriers, and of developing legal, regulatory and commercial environments and infrastructure that are supportive of free trade and help integrate LDCs into the global trade networks was also stressed.

LDCs need support to develop investor-friendly regulations that will help them diversify their economies and improve their export competitiveness but also ensure that local MSMEs are able to fully participate in trade opportunities, speakers argued. WTO Chair Holder Leila Baghdadi, for example, called for a relaxation of local content requirements and argued that trade restrictions ultimately result in a “tax of poor people” as they drive up inflation and increase the cost of essential goods in LMICs.

Help MSMEs benefit from digitisation and tap opportunities in e-commerce

LDCs need investments in infrastructure and skills to benefit from rapid growth in e-commerce and trade digitisation, or risk being left further behind. Henri Monceau of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) noted that 81% of people in LDCs lack internet access and said it would take $450 billion to close the growing digital divide.

EIF investments to date include its partnership with UNCTAD to integrate Vanuatu’s customs and postal systems to facilitate the clearance of goods for e-commerce trading partners.

Cambodia’s E-Commerce Acceleration and Go4eCAM initiatives were also provided as examples of how multi-pronged approaches – combining investments in regulations, ICT infrastructure, payment systems, digital skills and marketing – can help MSMEs in LDCs formalise and expand their e-commerce businesses.

Empower women with digital skills, mobile money and gender-sensitive policies

With millions of women and girls in LDCs and developing countries pulled out of education at the very time the pandemic was accelerating digitisation, many see opportunities for cross-border trade – such as those unleashed by the African Continental Free Trade Area – moving further out of reach. They must therefore be empowered, speakers argued.

To this end, an EIF partnership with the ITU in Burundi, Haiti and Ethiopia is working to mainstream gender perspectives in domestic policies and regulations to ensure women participate fully in the digital economy. Training in digital literacy and e-commerce skills has also been prioritised for 3,500 women-owned businesses supported by the SheTrades Commonwealth project.

To enable women to engage in digital trade, especially cross-border, their access to mobile money must also be improved. While women are 7% less likely to own a mobile phone than men in LMICsthey are 33% less likely to own a mobile money account noted Tamara Dancheva at GSMA.

International Trade Centre (ITC) figures show that women own only 15% of the world’s SMEs that export, despite them owning a third of all SMEs. They must therefore be supported into more lucrative export-related jobs and industries. Trade policies that disproportionately negatively impact women – such as tariffs on garments and apparel – must also be addressed, said Antonio Nucifora at the World Bank.

Invest in climate resilience to boost sustainability and revive tourism

Developing and least developed countries need investment and assistance to adapt to climate change, build climate-resilient infrastructure and create greener and more diversified economies. Governments must also seize opportunities to incorporate climate-friendly policies into their recovery plans, argued OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, adding that opening trade channels will help widen the availability of environmental technologies, goods and services.

Strengthening climate resilience and environmental health, especially in remote island states, is also crucial for the sustainable recovery of LDC’s pandemic-battered tourism industries. Travel- and tourism-related trade have missed out on a broader rebound in global trade in recent months, remaining two-thirds below pre-pandemic levels in the third quarter.

Initiatives that demonstrate the link between investments in climate resilience and tourism trade include the EIF-backed Tourism Infrastructure Project, which helped revive tourism in Vanuatu by relied by rebuilding cyclone-damaged waterfronts.

Countries in tropical regions will be particularly impacted by climate change, so will need support to identify new comparative advantages, adapt production methods, diversify their economies and build respective value chains while climate-proofing existing activities, said UNCTAD Acting Secretary-General Isabelle Durant. However, “these measures do not come for free,” she stressed. With only 3% of Aid for Trade disbursements currently allocated to climate action, “we can do more.”


From 12 to 15 April 2021, the World Customs Organization (WCO) delivered an Online Regional Workshop on E-Commerce for the Americas and the Caribbean region. The workshop was organised with the financial support of the Customs Cooperation Fund of Korea and gathered more than 70 participants from 20 Member Customs administrations and speakers from the WCO Secretariat, the South America Regional Intelligence Liaison Office (RILO South America), the Universal Postal Union, the Global Express Association, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Amazon and UPS Brazil.

The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the importance of effective and harmonised implementation of the E-Commerce FoS, said the WCO Deputy Secretary General, Mr. Ricardo Treviño Chapa, in his opening remarks. In addition to role played by e-commerce during the last decade, in providing new growth engines and in opening up global economic opportunities to micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, e-commerce proved to be a lifeline for vendors and buyers alike during the crisis brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, he added.

Opening remarks were also offered by the regional vice-chair for the WCO Americas and the Caribbean region, Mr. Werner Ovalle Ramirez, Intendant of Customs, Superintendency of Tax Administration (SAT) of Guatemala, who highlighted the importance of cross-border e-commerce for the economic development of the region and recognized the key role of the WCO in awareness raising and capacity building.

Over the four days of the regional workshop, the workshop facilitators explained the 15 standards of the WCO Framework of Standards on Cross-Border E-Commerce (E-Commerce FoS) and the tools available to support their implementation. Each workshop session benefitted from presentations by Members, partner international organizations and private sector entities. Thus, the workshop sessions provided practical examples of E-Commerce FoS implementation in areas such as use of Electronic Advance Data, data exchange with postal operators, and revenue collection including valuation, Post Clearance Audit and periodical payment issues. Other interesting topics discussed were cooperation with stakeholders such as marketplaces, fulfilment centers and free zones/warehouses, expanding the concept of Authorized Economic Operator (AEO) to e-commerce stakeholders, and the use of advanced technologies.

The participants from Member Customs administrations welcomed the opportunity to discuss how to efficiently implement the E-Commerce FoS, while the speakers from partner international organizations and the private sector were glad to contribute to this important forum.


The WTO has issued a call for proposals for this year’s Public Forum, whose theme is “Trade beyond COVID-19: Building Resilience”. Participants interested in organizing sessions at the Forum, scheduled to take place from 28 to 30 September, are invited to submit their proposals by 7 June 2021.

This year’s Public Forum will look at the effects of COVID-19 on trade and how the multilateral trading system can help build resilience to the pandemic and future crises.

Further information on this year’s theme and three sub-themes — Enhancing resilience beyond COVID-19; Strengthening the multilateral trading system; and Collective action towards sustainable trade — is available here.

Details about the format of this year’s Forum will be made available by July.

All the sessions at the Public Forum are organised by the participants. These include civil society, academia, business, governments, parliamentarians and intergovernmental organizations. Participants interested in organizing working sessions or workshops will find further details in this information note.  The online application form can be accessed from the information note and should be completed no later than 7 June 2021.


The Public Forum is the WTO’s largest annual outreach event. It provides a unique platform for heads of states, parliamentarians, business people, students, academics and civil society to come together and debate a wide range of trade and development topics. See more information on previous Public Fora.

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