The AfCFTA will not in one dramatic swoop alter existing commercial and economic realities on a vast scale, but its implementation could lead the recovery efforts from the COVID-19 crisis – Solomon Quaynor, VP African Development Bank
Industry experts meeting this week for a virtual discussion focused on resetting, retooling and restarting regional integration in Africa in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, underscored the importance of putting small scale traders at the heart of any initiatives.
The joint webinar, organized on Tuesday by the African Development Bank and Korea Customs Service(KCS), looked at service sectors, e-commerce, digital platforms and value chain development as critical factors for accelerating trade and investment in Africa against the backdrop of the global pandemic. The webinar was delivered in three sessions, moderated by Stephen Karangizi, Director, African Legal Support Facility; Dr. Stephen Karingi, Director at Regional Integration and Trade Division of UNECA and Acha Leke, Senior Partner at McKinsey
History has demonstrated the success of countries and businesses that seize new opportunities during times of crisis, said Sukhwan Roh, Commissioner of the Korea Customs Service. “The COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed health and livelihoods of individuals across the world in less than a year,” he said. “Korea wishes to share all the achievements in system enhancement utilizing new technologies with African countries.”
The workshop’s audience heard how regional integration is increasingly central to the continent’s future economic prospects and to attracting foreign direct investment. The African Continental Free Trade Agreement, (AfCFTA), already ratified by 30 countries, is expected to come into effect on 1 January, 2021. Uniting all 55 member states of the African Union, the pact will create a market of more than 1.2 billion people, including a growing middle class, and a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of over $3.4 trillion
COVID-19 has deepened pre-existing trade frictions within the continent yet offers important growth opportunities and great stories of innovation and highlights the importance of protecting Africa’s place in local value chains, said Anabel Gonzalez, Senior Fellow, Peterson Institute for International Economics, with the need to “put small scale traders at the heart of the effort.” She urged governments to strengthen national agencies to provide support to small traders.
“AfCFTA creates a new trade and integration reality…integrating unequal partners across the continent,” said Trudi Hartzenberg Executive Director of the Trade Law Center (TRALAC). Trade facilitation enjoys specific focus within the AfCFTA, with digital, e-payments, and e-commerce particularly important, she added, citing a 2020 WTO report that emphasized education and healthcare as fundamental to industrialization.
From the outset, the African Development Bank has lent strong support to the AfCFTA, financing the set-up of its secretariat as well as supporting member countries with technical assistance to comply with a range of AfCFTA regulations, said Bank Vice President, Infrastructure, Private Sector & Industrialization, Solomon Quaynor in his introductory remarks read by Abdu Mukhtar, Bank Director, Industrial and Trade Development Department.
Still, Quaynor warned, post-crisis recovery efforts are likely to be slow. “The AfCFTA will not in one dramatic swoop alter existing commercial and economic realities on a vast scale. However, through strategic measures and the right investments, policy frameworks and political backing, intra-African trade will be enhanced.“
African countries innovate to enhance local value chains
Presentations provided examples from Ghana and Zambia of strategies the private sector can adopt to leverage the AfCFTA within the context of the pandemic.
Ghana previously imported most of its Personal Protective Equipment or PPE, but, since the pandemic, the government galvanized 14 local garment firms to manufacture PPE. These firms now produce 1,000 items daily, according to Ghana’s deputy trade minister, Robert Ahomka Lindsay. The development has created 10,000 jobs.
“ Traditional value chains have been challenged… it made us realise that we cannot rely on those value chains,” Lindsay said.
Some of the worst-affected sectors in Africa such as tourism, aviation and education, had shown resilience, for example, in the food industry, which harnessed e-commerce for marketing during the pandemic, noted Kenneth Baghamunda, Dir. General, Customs and Trade, East African Community Secretariat. Zambia’s success with cashless payment solutions at its border and other innovations since COVID-19 was another example of favourable results.
“We need to see which value chains need to be developed and we need to interconnect our policies with the right institutional framework,” he said.
World merchandise trade appears to have rebounded strongly after plummeting in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, but whether growth can be sustained going forward is unclear, according to the WTO’s latest Goods Trade Barometer released on 20 November. A sharp rise in the barometer index was driven by a surge in export orders, but mixed readings in other components and the resurgence of COVID-19 could weigh on trade in the coming months.
The Goods Trade Barometer’s current reading of 100.7 marks a dramatic improvement from the 84.5 recorded last August, which reflected collapsing trade and output in the second quarter as lockdowns and travel restrictions were employed to fight the virus. The latest reading indicates a strong rebound in trade in the third quarter as lockdowns were eased, but growth is likely to slow in the fourth quarter as pent-up demand is exhausted and inventory restocking is completed.
Trade-related uncertainty remains high. A second wave of COVID-19 infection is already under way in Europe and North America, leading to renewed lockdowns that could trigger another round of business closures and financial distress. On a more positive note, progress has been reported in the development of a vaccine, but when and how it might be deployed is not yet known.
The Goods Trade Barometer is designed to gauge momentum and identify turning points in world trade growth in real time. Readings of 100 indicate expansion in line with medium-term trends; readings greater than 100 suggest above-trend growth, while those below 100 indicate below-trend growth.
All of the barometer’s component indices were rising in the latest months, with some climbing above their medium-run trends while others remained depressed. The recovery in the overall barometer index was driven by export orders (113.5) and agricultural raw materials (103.6), both of which finished firmly above trend. The indices for container shipping (102.0) and automotive products (94.6) also recovered substantially to near trend, while those for air freight (88.5) and electronic components (94.6) remained below trend.
The latest reading of the Goods Trade Barometer is consistent with the WTO’s revised trade forecast of 6 October 2020, which predicted a 9.2% decline in the volume of world merchandise trade in 2020. This outcome would require a sharp rebound in the third quarter following the 17.2% year-on-year decline registered in the second quarter.
Normally the Goods Trade Barometer anticipates turning points in world trade by a few months, but new sources of uncertainty related to the COVID-19 pandemic may have reduced the predictive value of its component indices. Under these circumstances, higher-frequency (i.e. daily or weekly) statistics may provide additional signals of economic activity and trade to complement the standard set of indicators. These indicators point to a stalled recovery of international flights and container shipping in October, but improved economic sentiment as reflected by copper futures and press reports (see below).
The full Goods Trade Barometer is available here.
Further details on the methodology are contained in the technical note here.
The trade barometers provide a preview of trends in WTO trade statistics, which can be downloaded at data.wto.org. Forthcoming releases include merchandise and commercial services trade values on 27 November and merchandise trade volumes in mid-December.
The coronavirus pandemic is impacting actors in the digital economy differently. While some digital businesses are showing resilience, costs are rising for others, a new UNCTAD survey shows.
Even though COVID-19 has pushed more consumers in developing countries to buy online, many e-commerce businesses in these nations have seen a slump in sales, according to an UNCTAD study published on 17 November.
Presenting hard-to-collect data from 23 countries, mainly in Africa and Asia, the research shows a stark divide between the pandemic’s impact on different actors in the digital economy.
While 58% of businesses selling their own products or services online have recorded a drop in monthly revenue, about 64% of third-party marketplaces have seen a spike in sales, according to data collected between March and July 2020 from over 250 companies, most of which have less than 10 employees.
“We found that wholly digital businesses, especially third-party online marketplaces, have been more resilient during the current crisis,” said Shamika N. Sirimanne, UNCTAD’s technology and logistics director.
“Even with growing demand for e-commerce, most businesses have struggled to adapt and scale-up their operations online.”
Despite new, coronavirus-induced opportunities for digital business models, the outlook looks challenging for many of the e-commerce businesses surveyed. Two-thirds reported rising operational costs since the outbreak, and 44% expect to cut their workforce.
E-payments up, but cash on delivery stays on top
The study reports a notable increase in digital financial services in the nations surveyed – predominantly least developed countries (LDCs) – as consumers tried to limit exposure to the virus while paying for food, medicine, health and hygiene products and other goods.
Some 64% of the e-commerce businesses that took part in the study reported an uptake in payments primarily through mobile money, followed by online and mobile banking, credit cards and other digital payment platforms.
Yet cash-on-delivery remains by far the preferred form of payment for e-commerce transactions in LDCs, the survey confirms.
Tackling digital divides still as urgent
The study highlights the range of challenges e-commerce businesses have faced during the pandemic, notably disrupted supply chains, logistical problems arising from restrictions on the movement of people, and high broadband costs.
In LDCs, only 19% of the population use the Internet – compared to 87% in developed countries – and only 40% have access to a high-speed mobile broadband network.
“The existing divides in terms of digital readiness underline the need to accelerate policy reforms and mobilize support to build the capacity of developing countries to leverage e-commerce in their COVID-19 recovery plans” Ms. Sirimanne said.
“Digitalization must be placed at the heart of the development debate,” she added. “The current changes in consumer and business behaviour will have lasting effects when the world economy starts to pick up again.”
Response efforts and recovery plans
Close to half of the survey participants said governments had not prioritized the e-commerce sector sufficiently in their COVID-19 response efforts and recovery plans.
The pandemic has further exposed gaps in policy areas central to improving digital readiness in developing countries, such as weak e-commerce regulatory frameworks and bottlenecks in financing digital entrepreneurs and start-ups.
But the surveyed businesses did acknowledge that some measures taken by the public and private sectors have helped lower hurdles for businesses and consumers to use e-commerce services.
Increased public awareness campaigns on the benefits of e-commerce, more digital skills training opportunities, and reduced e-payment transaction costs were cited as the most impactful.
The report highlights several successful initiatives:
- In Cambodia, the government has passed an e-commerce law to ease the registration of e-commerce businesses.
- In Kiribati, digital solutions implemented to combat the spread of COVID-19 have given fresh impetus to efforts to harness the development gains of ICT and e-commerce.
- In Myanmar, e-commerce and the digital economy are featured in the government’s COVID-19 economic relief plan
- In Rwanda, the Central Bank suspended mobile money fees for three months and waived charges on push and pull services between bank accounts and mobile wallets
- In Senegal, collaboration aimed at onboarding new businesses and supporting local produce providers has proven successful (examples include the e-KomKom and the e-commerce Sénégal platforms)
- In Uganda, e-commerce platforms have been fast to promote contactless payments and logistics and nurture new partnerships with development partners
- In Tunisia, the “label de confiance” initiative has helped build trust across the e-commerce ecosystem
Readiness assessments and national strategies
Most of the surveyed businesses said a “a well-defined national e-commerce strategy” should be the top priority for COVID-19 recovery plans. Reduced costs for internet and broadband access, as well as for mobile and other electronic payments were the other measures recommended most.
UNCTAD and partners are working with many developing countries to help them put in place relevant measures and strategies.
The countries that took part in the survey have benefited from UNCTAD’s support in devising a national e-commerce strategy or conducting an eTrade readiness assessment, which gives a comprehensive diagnostic of a nation’s ability to benefit from opportunities in the global digital economy.
So far, 27 developing countries, mostly LDCs, have benefited from such an assessment, and the organization is now working with eTrade for all partners to fast-track the implementation of the recommendations, with financial support from the German and Dutch governments.
UNCTAD is also working with partners, including United Nations resident coordinators, to ensure e-commerce is mainstreamed into national development plans and development partners’ cooperation frameworks.
The VI E-Goverment Ministerial Meeting of Latin America and the Caribbean ended today with a pledge by ministers and other high-ranking officials from 33 nations to promote digital transformation to help with the region’s social and economic recovery in the post-COVID-19 era, with a special emphasis on transborder digital services. In addition, authorities from participating countries designated Colombia as President of the Gealc Network. Colombia will hold this position in 2021 through its Ministry of Information Technologies and Communications (MinTIC).
In a joint statement issued at the end of the meeting, the ministers and other authorities said: “Digital transformation is of the essence to promote the region’s inclusive economic and social reactivation in the face of the COVID 19 crisis. The colossal challenge posed by the COVID-19 virus pandemic has demanded extraordinary innovative efforts from the digital government agencies in the region in order to develop e-government tools to tackle the healthcare and social crises, while at the same time supporting the continuity of government operations, adapting to the different physical distancing methodologies adopted by each country.”
The statement also stressed “the increasingly important role of digital technologies and e-government tools to provide sustainable, inclusive and equitable services,” as well as “the transformative power of digital government to enable more efficient, transparent, and participative administrations in the region.”
The meeting’s inaugural session featured the participation of Costa Rica’s President Carlos Alvarado, whose country hosted the virtual event; Inter-American Development Bank’s (IDB) President Mauricio Claver-Carone; and Organization of American States Secretary-General Luis Almagro. All in all, more than 800 high-ranking authorities, government officials, digital government experts, and speakers participated in the two-day event.
In addition, more than 350 e-government officials took part in a series of thematic meetings on a number of relevant e-government issues such as cybersecurity , innovation, open data, and emerging technologies. Experts from Spain, Estonia, France, Israel, Portugal, and the United Kingdom also participated. Digital government directors approved an ambitious collaborative work agenda for 2021 focusing on key areas for digital transformation such as interoperability, digital signature, cybersecurity, and digital ID.
The event also included a successful test of digital certificates’ validation operation between Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru, and Uruguay. This was made possible by the collaborative work of officials from these countries, with technical and financial support from the IDB. The exercise was complemented with the signing of a document promoting the transborder digital signature – a feature that will boost the validation of the digital signature among countries in the region.
Also, the ExcelGOB 2020 edition prizes were awarded to the best e-government solutions in the region. The ExcelGOB awards are presented by the Inter-American Digital Government Network (Red Gealc), with support from the OAS and the IDB. The delegations of the countries that took part in the VI Digital Government Ministerial Meeting used an online tool to pick the winners of this year’s edition. They were:
- Brazil – digital transformation category, with a solution to digitalize procedures and transactions
- Panama – digital government in the face of COVID-19 category, with the Plan Panamá Solidario solution.
- Argentina – gender focus, with App 144 against gender violence
- Peru – open data focus, with single work certificate for young workers-CERTIJOVEN
- Colombia – emerging technologies focus, with a special mention shared by blockchain for land adjudication, and artificial intelligence for the Sustainable Development Goals.
The ExcelGOB 2020 edition received 53 proposals from 14 countries. This year the contest made it possible to know and systematize the most innovative solutions in the region in terms of digital government in the face of the COVID-19 crisis.
Lastly, the meeting announced that Panama will host the XV Gealc Network Conference and Annual Meeting in 2021, whereas Peru will host the VII Digital Government Ministerial Meeting of Latin America and the Caribbean in 2022.
The United Nations, IOM, ITU, OCHA, OHCHR, UNDP, UNEP, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNICEF, UNOPS, UPU, UN Volunteers, UN Women, WFP and WHO support the adoption of the following joint statement, in line with the UN Personal Data Protection and Privacy Principles adopted by the UN System Organizations to support its use of data and technology in the COVID-19 response in a way that respects the right to privacy and other human rights and promotes economic and social development.
The COVID-19 pandemic has become a global emergency, with devastating consequences in terms of loss of life and economic decline, and significantly hampering progress toward achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Poor and vulnerable communities are particularly imperiled by this deadly disease and its economic ramifications.
Mounting evidence demonstrates that the collection, use, sharing and further processing of data can help limit the spread of the virus and aid in accelerating the recovery, especially through digital contact tracing. Mobility data derived from people’s usage of mobile phones, emails, banking, social media, postal services, for instance, can assist in monitoring the spread of the virus and support the implementation of the UN System Organizations’ mandated activities.
Such data collection and processing, including for digital contact tracing and general health surveillance, may include the collection of vast amounts of personal and non-personal sensitive data. This could have significant effects beyond the initial crisis response phase, including, if such measures are applied for purposes not directly or specifically related to the COVID-19 response, potentially leading to the infringement of fundamental human rights and freedoms. This concern is especially pressing if some emergency measures introduced to address the pandemic, such as digital contact tracing, are turned into standard practice.
The UN Secretary-General highlighted in his policy brief on human rights and COVID-19 that “Human rights are key in shaping the pandemic response, both for the public health emergency and the broader impact on people’s lives and livelihoods. Human rights put people centre-stage. Responses that are shaped by and respect human rights result in better outcomes in beating the pandemic, ensuring healthcare for everyone and preserving human dignity.”
Any data collection, use and processing by UN System Organizations in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic should be rooted in human rights and implemented with due regard to applicable international law, data protection and privacy principles, including the UN Personal Data Protection and Privacy Principles. Any measures taken to address the COVID-19 pandemic should also be consistent with the mandates of the respective UN System Organizations and take into account the balancing of relevant rights, including the right to health and life and the right to economic and social development.
Taking into account the UN Personal Data Protection and Privacy Principles, the UN Secretary-General’s policy brief on human rights and COVID-19, and relevant health and humanitarian standards, data collection, use and processing by UN System Organizations in their operations should, at a minimum:
Be lawful, limited in scope and time, and necessary and proportionate to specified and legitimate purposes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic;
Ensure appropriate confidentiality, security, time-bound retention and proper destruction or deletion of data in accordance with the aforementioned purposes;
Ensure that any data exchange adheres to applicable international law, data protection and privacy principles, and is evaluated based on proper due diligence and risks assessments;
Be subject to any applicable mechanisms and procedures to ensure that measures taken with regard to data use are justified by and in accordance with the aforementioned principles and purposes, and cease as soon as the need for such measures is no longer present; and
Be transparent in order to build trust in the deployment of current and future efforts alike.
A coordinated and inclusive global UN-wide response rooted in solidarity is necessary to contain the pandemic and minimize its negative impact across the world. Although the statement is aimed to address the challenges of the current COVID-19 pandemic, it may serve as a precedent for using data to respond to any future crises of a similar scale quickly and while respecting data protection and privacy.
 WHO issued “Ethical considerations to guide the use of digital proximity tracking technologies for COVID-19 contact tracing”. More information can be found at https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/WHO-2019-nCoV-Ethics_Contact_tracing_apps-2020.1
Recovery from the economic setbacks induced by the pandemic will demand close cooperation between the public and private sectors, says Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank.
In conversation with Børge Brende, President of the World Economic Forum, during the Forum’s Pioneers of Change summit, Lagarde outlined the challenges facing the global economy. She also described what kinds of response she would like to see and explained why there might be grounds for cautious optimism.
Many rivers to cross
“We were stuck,” Lagarde says of the fallout from COVID-19. “We were standing on one side of a massive river of uncertainty and hardship, both from the health and economic point of view. And we couldn’t even see the other side of the river.
“Thanks to the fantastic hard work put in by some companies in Germany, and in the US and in various corners of the world, we are now seeing the other side of the river because we know that vaccines are on the horizon.”
Getting to that other side is where the cooperation between public and private comes in. That means a determination to make sure structural economic changes are positive and that everyone continues to invest in the future.
Digital transformation has been accelerated in many aspects of life – both professional and personal – as people have adapted to remote working and education, ecommerce is booming, and people are getting more of their recreational activities via the internet. A survey carried out early in the pandemic found that 32% of people in the US were arranging virtual parties with friends or family.
Services: From local to global
“Digitalization will have an impact in terms of how services are provided,” Lagarde says. “They will probably be less local and more from anywhere in the world. And in the same vein, businesses providing those services will be more challenged from a competition point of view, which may bring about improved productivity.”
The private sector has an important role to play in creating jobs and income for people through ongoing innovation that brings new products and services to market. But at a time of economic uncertainty, this is a challenge for many businesses. It could cause some to adopt a more cautious outlook, paring back on any investments that aren’t absolutely necessary.
Lagarde calls for the private sector to rise to the challenge and says there is an important supporting role for the public sector in enabling that to happen.
“We need to provide the appropriate business environment where innovation will thrive. I think policy-makers are doing their best to remove the uncertainties. But it is the case that at the moment the private sector has put on hold a lot of their research and development efforts.
“Hopefully the private sector will get back into the swing of things and invest in research and development, because in Europe, in particular, they provide about two thirds of research and development.”
Past economic setbacks have helped fuel innovative growth, Lagarde says. “The 2003 SARS outbreak precipitated an acceptance by Asia Pacific economies to develop stronger digital infrastructure, which increased ecommerce massively. In the same way, after the financial crisis we had in 2008, we saw an increase in something the World Economic Forum has championed – social entrepreneurship.”
Crushed dreams and job creation
The economic fall-out from the pandemic has been felt around the world. Young people have been particularly hard hit, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO).
The pandemic’s impact on young people has been “systematic, deep and disproportionate,” the ILO says. This has led to what Lagarde describes as the “crushed dreams” of young people who are joining the job market and “finding nothing”.
Countering this will call for a joined-up response from both public and private sectors leaders, she says. For while private sector businesses will create much-needed jobs, they will need help during the economic uncertainty – the kind that comes from policy-makers and legislators.
“Clearly, the environment that will be conducive to young companies to actually employ will be vital because it is those young companies, those companies that are under five years of age, that are providing the essential bulk of job growth,” Lagarde says. “From that perspective, I appeal to the private sector to continue to invest in research and development.”
It is important, she continues, that businesses make every effort to be open to digitally literate jobseekers that are keen to join the job market “so that these dreams do not get crushed”.
A strong and better economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic requires governments to make the services sector a key element in their policy mix.
Services play a key role in increasing productivity, efficiency and effectiveness in the whole economy.
Globally, services represent two-thirds of economic output, more than half of the world’s jobs and about a quarter of direct exports.
But direct exports of services are just the tip of the iceberg. Services provide significant inputs to all economic sectors.
With their indirect contributions, including those produced in-house by non-services firms, services can account for almost two-thirds of the value-added of total exports.
Further, services make up two-thirds of total productivity growth in developing countries, making them a key element of these countries’ strategies for industrialization.
At the eighth session of UNCTAD’s multi-year expert meeting on trade, services and development, held in September, experts and policymakers underlined that services can help countries recover better from the COVID-19 crisis, and keep them on track towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Turning the tide on COVID-19
As countries reel under the pandemic’s economic impact, the services sector can help turn the tide by creating opportunities for greater income, food security, productivity, employment, investment and trade.
Servicification – putting a premium on the role of trade in services to power national economies – needs to be a key element of countries’ strategies for recovery from COVID-19.
But for services to serve societies and economies, countries need inclusive, coherent and fitting policies. In particular, developing countries and least developed countries need support to strengthen and upgrade their services.
With developing countries relying more on traditional services and developed countries depending on knowledge-intensive ones, the landscape is not even.
Dealing with the pandemic has underscored the need to mind the structural gap between developed and developing countries. It’s critical to promote key services inputs that transform the economy and trade in developing countries.
This calls for international cooperation, including South-South, on trade in services as a key element of the policy agenda.
Digital services transform economies
Services can be used strategically to facilitate economic transformation. These include ICT services that enable telework, digital financial services and e-commerce platforms, which have kept economies running amid COVID-19-induced lockdowns.
ICT services, which can increase efficiency and reduce costs, promote the digital transformation of farming, manufacturing and other sectors.
This services-enabled digitization improves supply and export capacity, enhancing countries’ economic resilience and recovery in the wake of the pandemic.
Digitization of services has helped creative industries cope with the pandemic, as many creatives have turned to digital platforms and technologies to connect with audiences and consumers.
The potential of digitization is equally important in other services that have been severely affected by the pandemic, such as tourism, the world’s third largest export sector (after fuels and chemicals).
A UN policy brief on the impact of COVID-19 on tourism, released in August, projected that export revenues from tourism, which supports one in 10 jobs globally, could fall by $910 billion to $1.2 trillion in 2020.
In July, UNCTAD estimated that the losses could be as high as $3.3 trillion or 4.2% of the world’s GDP, if the pandemic puts international tourism at a standstill for a total of 12 months, a projection becoming more likely in the face of a still unchecked pandemic.
For small island developing states, where tourism accounts for as much as 80% of exports, the impacts of the pandemic are devastating.
Supporting countries to recover through services
As countries leverage services for post-pandemic recovery, UNCTAD continues to provide much-needed support, based on its longstanding experience of working on services, trade and development.
Its range of support includes policy analyses, consensus-building, capacity-building, advisory services and technical assistance on services.
In addition, UNCTAD’s services policy reviews assess and provide recommendations on services policy, regulatory and institutional frameworks.
As the pandemic wears on, the need to strengthen the services sector has never been greater, considering its vital role in enhancing productive and export capacity, diversifying and upgrading production and trade.
Ministerial and Forum debates explore connectivity, measures taken, challenges and opportunities for the ICT sector in the COVID-19 era
The essential nature of connectivity, the measures taken in the face of the pandemic, and the unprecedented opportunities for the ICT sector in recovery from global crisis were the key areas highlighted by global ministers, regulators and industry leaders during Ministerial Roundtables at the recent ITU Virtual Digital World 2020 event. Discussions during three days pinpointed the priority areas for governments and the ICT industry as we move forward.
The pandemic has underlined the vital importance of connectivity. The ability to connect has moved way beyond a business requirement. Digital technologies have become essential tools in accessing urgent information, healthcare, advice, work, education and news. Connectivity is critical in keeping people physically apart but virtually together.
At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed a new digital divide, not only between developed and developing markets, but also between those who have and can benefit from digital technologies as our lives increasingly shift online, and those who cannot.
Immediate measures undertaken
In countries around the world, key players from government and industry rose to the challenge and worked together to roll out emergency measures and essential services such as text information alerts or hotlines, ensuring the health and safety of citizens. Short-term government actions to support the operators included regulatory relaxations on spectrum, infrastructure sharing and licencing, as well as recognizing telecom engineers as key workers able to move around to support and maintain critical infrastructure.
The seismic shift in working patterns as many people move towards remote working has also meant adapting to a huge increase in network traffic patterns. And networks have been able to cope with this change.
Much of the work of governments has been forced online, and this has accelerated progress in e-government dramatically, which is expected to continue after the pandemic.
Opportunities and challenges
The pandemic has provided a major challenge as well as new opportunities for the ICT sector. Sectors such as e-health and e-education have boomed as a result and will continue to play important roles. In health terms, digital technologies have underpinned areas such as track and trace operations or assisting with remote COVID-19 diagnosis and telemedicine, as well as the prediction of patterns of contagion and outbreak using AI, big data and algorithms. Education has moved online, providing e-learning for students from schools and universities worldwide, helped by innovative connectivity solutions, including free public WiFi, use of universal service funds for rural service provision, government subsidies and free access to learning platforms and websites. The pandemic has also meant that countries have fast tracked legislation and national digital transformation plans.
The issue of digital literacy has become increasingly important in these difficult times. People need the right skillset to be able to survive and thrive in the digital world. Developing human capacity, therefore, needs to be at the centre of connecting the unconnected.
Cybersecurity is ever more critical–as more employees are working remotely and more key information is being disseminated via digital technology, attacks have also increased during the crisis. This has caused greater vulnerability and an increased awareness of the need for appropriate legislation and cross-border cooperation.
The road ahead
The message from ITU Virtual Digital World 2020 was clear: the new digital world must be built on continued collaboration and cooperation, nationally, regionally and internationally, to ensure sustainable connectivity for all.
Connectivity and digital technology should be placed at the forefront of policy concerns. Governments need to build a conducive environment for digital business and society, with measures such as harmonizing regulation, making available spectrum, attracting investment and creating incentives for business. The deployment of 5G networks also offers great potential to boost connectivity and speed recovery.
Efforts to bridge the digital divide must incorporate the public sector, the international community and all players across industries, including different technology providers – satellite, mobile, fixed, 5G and emerging providers – as well as innovative SMEs.
ITU Digital World 2020 and beyond
ITU Virtual Digital World 2020 was a three-day online event, co-organized by ITU and Viet Nam’s Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC), comprising Ministerial Roundtables, Forum webinars and an online exhibition, and bringing together some 80 high-level speakers including ministers, regulators and industry leaders from around the world.
Alongside the Ministerial Roundtable and Forum, ITU Virtual Digital World 2020 also included a global virtual exhibition, open online until the end November, organized by Viet Nam and supported by ITU, which showcased the tech innovations of more than 150 virtual exhibitors from Viet Nam and global companies. It also included 10 national pavilions from around the world including Viet Nam, Cambodia, Cuba, Finland, India, Japan, Korea, Laos, Timor Leste and Zambia.
The event forms part of a programme of virtual activities co-organized by ITU and Viet Nam’s Ministry of Information and Communications in the build-up to the physical ITU Digital World 2021, taking place in Ha Noi, Viet Nam in October 2021 and hosted by the Government of Viet Nam. The next virtual activity will be the ITU Virtual Digital World 2020 SME Awards, including a series of SME Masterclasses open to all, live pitching from 30 November to 3 December, and the Awards Ceremony on 7 December 2020.
The Forum’s latest Great Reset meeting brought together Iván Duque, the President of Colombia, Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda, and Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel.
All three highlighted the importance of education in preparing for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Infrastructure, digital access and international collaboration were also key.
“There are so many problems that technology can provide solutions for. And that’s why we’ve prioritized investments in technology and infrastructure.” These were the words of Rwandan President Paul Kagame in a virtual session, The Great Reset: Harnessing the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which brought together three heads of state along with leaders from academia, biotech and finance to discuss the role digital technology will play in the COVID recovery.
Studies have shown that the world leaped forward five years in digital uptake during the early days of the pandemic. AI is projected to increase global GDP by about 15% in this decade alone, while 5G is also expected to generate $13 trillion in global economic value and 22 million jobs by 2035.
Technology is clearly key to the recovery and our ongoing resilience – but there are also challenges to be faced. Many industries, built for an analogue era, are still playing digital catch-up. Meanwhile there is a real risk that the pandemic will deepen the digital divide, with close to half the world’s population still not connected to the internet.
To unlock a sustainable future, we need the right digital-enabling policies in place. Here’s how the three leaders are facing up to the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Colombia has seen a ‘double acceleration’
– Iván Duque
“Colombia will be working very hard to meet the goal of being conceived as a Silicon Valley in Latin America, and a start-up nation,” says the country’s President Iván Duque, citing the OECD Digital Government Index, in which Colombia was ranked third this year.
But central to this digital transformation is equality, adds Duque, and a social pact that aims to bridge the digital divide.
“It starts with connectivity,” he says. “Our goal is to have 70% of all the Colombian population with high-speed internet by the end of my administration in August 2022.”
The Latin American nation also aims to train 100,000 programmers, and to expand digital penetration into education, land registry and tax collection, while 10,000 additional areas of the country are being brought high-speed internet “to expand services for the poorest of the poor”.
There has been an acceleration of digital literacy across Colombia, from fintech to e-commerce and telemedicine. For the country’s young people, this acceleration has proceeded at “double” the pace. Duque explains that this has been brought on by demand for new skills among international companies.
“Kids that are graduating from high school will have on the one hand their high school diploma, and on the other hand a degree as a technician so that they can start in the labour force.”
In Africa, it’s about working together
– Paul Kagame
“Rwanda has continued to prioritize investment in technology, broadband and digital skills, but we’re aware that it’s going to succeed [only] in the wider context of our continent, which in many cases has been left behind,” says Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda. “We have had this vision where not only do we develop these capacities not only within our own country but across the continent.”
For this “pan-African” approach to function, systems must be capable of communicating across borders. “We’re aware that technology innovation is moving fast, and this puts pressure on regulators to find the right balance,” Kagame explains. “We don’t want this to happen in one country and not another. It affects how we work together, especially in context of the new continental free-trade area, created across Africa, which by any measure seems to be the largest in the world.”
Like Colombia, Rwanda has established a Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution to foster public-private collaboration. “We continue to build on that for deeper partnerships with the private sector,” Kagame explains. “The private sector is very crucial in creating jobs, in making sure they bring the necessary investments in creating the jobs required for our young people.”
Designing the right education for young people is a key investment for the future. “Most children entering primary school today will work in jobs that don’t yet exist, so the curriculum has to be flexible and future-oriented, with technology skills as a priority,” says Kagame.
He says government must prioritize investments in infrastructure and skills, but also in how Africans communicate across the continent. “We will invest not only in tech innovations but in technical and vocational education. This needs to be more widely available, especially because of these big numbers of young people.”
The world has changed. Can we keep up?
– Benjamin Netanyahu
Israel has been battling extremely high COVID infection rates, and in September had to impose a general lockdown right at the start of the school year.
“What do we do with the schools?” says Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister. “How do we open them up? And the reason that’s an acute question is not merely because of the virus but because of the digital divide. Because if you don’t want to open them up and you use e-learning, what about those who don’t have e-learning?” A lack of digital access is prevalent in Israel’s Orthodox Jewish and Arab communities.
The first focus, then, had to be on infrastructure. The government allocated resources to buy computers for deprived children, and established a fund to stretch fibreoptic technology to all parts of Israel. “Even though we have a tiny country, we have central places where the 5G companies will go and other remote areas where they won’t go because it’s not profitable for them,” says Netanyahu. In this way, they could ensure “every girl and boy, every teenager and every university student can have these capabilities”.
The second priority is on human resources to staff the tech space of the future. Thanks to a deliberate drive, the number of IT students in the country’s universities has grown 70%. Far from deepening the digital divide, says Netanyahu, this is boosting the number of IT educators for the future, as well as the number of tech workers for the nation’s booming start-up scene. Israel’s R&D spending per capita is already the highest in the world.
Its important for the country to maintain its focus on excellence, says Netanyahu. “Don’t try to erase the digital divide by lowering the top. You can raise the bottom but if you lower the top you get nothing.”
As a third focus, the country is updating regulation to bring it into line with the new normal. “Our economies and our educational systems, our social systems are geared to yesterday. We have to gear them towards tomorrow.” To this end, Israel is specifically looking to change regulations on driverless cars and drones.
The fourth key, Netanyahu says, is international co-operation – especially in the context of the COVID-19 vaccine. Israel enjoys partnerships in Latin America and Africa, as well as with Australia, Singapore and Britain. “These co-operations are very valuable.”
A new co-operation that is “giving enormous hope to everyone here” is with the Arab world. “We have just signed peace agreements with the United Arab Emirates; we’re signing peace agreements now with Bahrain.” These agreements include the sharing of technology in the coronavirus fight and beyond.
Finally, Israel is looking to ensuring its cyber-defence systems are watertight. “The more we have a dependence on these [digital] systems, the more we need to protect them.”
“I think the world has already changed,” says Netanyahu. “The only question is how fast do we change.”
UNCTAD helps the southeast Asian nation develop a strategy to build on e-commerce growth in sectors such as food delivery, online retail and mobile payments.
Myanmar’s e-commerce firms have seen a spike in sales during lockdowns to contain COVID-19, with consumers stocking up on hand sanitizers, dry foods, canned goods and other essential items.
While the number of online shoppers in the country is still small – only 3% of the population shopped online in 2017 – the government has prioritized strengthening e-commerce in its economic relief plan in the wake of the pandemic.
COVID-19 has hit Myanmar hard, with GDP growth estimated to drop from 6.8% between 2018 and 2019 to 0.5% between 2019 and 2020, according to the World Bank.
UNCTAD is supporting the southeast Asian country to develop a national e-commerce strategy to help the country recover from the effects of the pandemic, as part of its eTrade for all partnership. The work is funded by the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF).
“Myanmar’s efforts to step up support for e-commerce are laudable,” said Shamika Sirimanne, UNCTAD’s director of technology and logistics. “The ongoing public-private collaboration is critical for building broad ownership and support for the national e-commerce strategy across the entire ecosystem.”
Climbing the e-commerce ladder
Myanmar was climbing the e-commerce ladder even prior to the pandemic.
The country jumped seven spots from 133 to 126 out of 152 economies in the 2019 UNCTAD B2C E-commerce Index, a marker of its e-commerce progress in recent years.
The country’s ministry of commerce recently hosted a webinar to present a draft of the strategy.
Over 90 organizations participated in the online consultations, with many noting that e-commerce had become a major pillar of the Myanmar economy during the COVID-19 crisis and could generate development benefits if fully supported.
“E-commerce is increasingly becoming an imperative for more inclusive economic growth and competitiveness in developing countries,” said U Minn Minn, director-general of the department of trade at the ministry of commerce.
The e-commerce strategy could help increase access to regional and international markets, create jobs locally and foster synergies across government initiatives and national plans, said Chaw Khin Khin, joint secretary of the Myanmar Computer Federation.
The strategy is also expected to accelerate Myanmar’s regional integration in line with its e-commerce commitments in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as well as multilateral initiatives at the World Trade Organization.
Challenges to overcome
Despite the pandemic-induced boom in e-commerce, many businesses in Myanmar face severe challenges.
In a recent UNCTAD survey of e-commerce businesses and platforms in the country, respondents reported problems such as supply and delivery chain disruptions, higher costs due to lockdowns and closure of markets, transport and storage facilities.
In response, the government’s economic stimulus has provided fiscal and monetary relief to businesses.
Its stimulus package includes provisions for tax relief, credit for businesses, food support and cash transfers to households and policies to facilitate trade and investment.
Measures to boost to e-commerce include promoting the use of mobile payment services and launching a website where retail businesses can sell their products.
Also, the government plans to provide grants to Myanmar-based technology firms that present innovative ideas to combat COVID-19.
Helping countries tap into e-commerce
UNCTAD has conducted 25 e-trade readiness assessments in developing and least developed countries in the Asia-Pacific region and Africa since 2017.
These assessments help countries identify and resolve barriers to e-commerce to drive economic growth, foster inclusive trade and create jobs.
Various countries are implementing the assessments’ recommendations, with UNCTAD’s support.
Stakeholders gather to share experiences and exchange information to advance the welfare of consumers in open markets.
Countries have taken various steps to protect consumers as they implement measures to overcome the adverse health and economic impacts of COVID-19.
At the 8th United Nations Conference on Competition and Consumer Protection slated for 19 to 23 October, ministers, heads of competition and consumer protection authorities and civil society representatives will chart the path forward in better safeguarding consumers’ welfare amid and after the pandemic.
The quinquennial conference is the highest-level meeting on competition and consumer protection within the UN, bringing together stakeholders from all over the world.
UNCTAD is the focal point within the UN system on these two issues and offers the only platform for global international cooperation.
COVID-19 underscores need for international cooperation
“If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is that international cooperation in the fields of competition and consumer protection is crucial,” said Teresa Moreira, UNCTAD’s head of competition and consumer policies.
The conference is an opportunity for stakeholders to share experiences, exchange information on similar competition and consumer protection cases, improve laws and policies, generate consensus and take common positions.
International cooperation on competition and consumer protection is expected to lead to more efficient use of resources at national, regional and global levels, joint case handling, more efficient investigations and more effective results.
In April, UNCTAD called for firmer action to protect consumers as the first wave of the pandemic raged.
Governments have since fought unfair practices such as price gouging and non-respect of refunds, and defended competition to protect consumers, prevent the distortion of markets and promote a healthy economic recovery from the pandemic.
Participants at the conference will discuss how to combat cross-border cartels and improve consumer product safety around the world.
Protecting digital consumers
They will also examine ways to better protect consumers in the digital era.
COVID-19 has accelerated the shift towards a digital world, as people have turned to online platforms to shop, telework and connect with families and friends.
Uppermost in the minds of policymakers is how to make consumer protection and competition policies fit for purpose in the digital economy.
The pandemic has seen dominant online platforms benefit significantly. Stock prices and market capitalization of the world’s leading technology companies have skyrocketed.
“Governments should consider regulation of these platforms to maintain competitive and open digital markets and better protect consumers,” Ms. Moreira said.
She added that legislative frameworks should address the increasing market power of the platforms to protect consumers from unfair and misleading practices.
According to the UNCTAD World Consumer Protection Map, 97% of the 84 countries that responded to a related survey have a consumer protection law, with 62% addressing issues related to e-commerce.
“Consumers must enjoy a level of protection online that is no less than offline,” Ms. Moreira said. “This may mean enacting or reviewing national policies and upgrading enforcement capacities.”
Another top priority is ensuring access by consumers to fair, effective, transparent and impartial dispute resolution mechanisms, particularly online.
Equally high on the agenda is the need for businesses to protect consumers’ privacy through a combination of appropriate control, security, transparency and consent mechanisms related to the collection and use of their personal data.
The UN guidelines on consumer protection remain a relevant tool for governments aiming to improve consumer protection in the digital era, and their implementation will be reviewed during the conference.
Bolstering competition in the markets
The sweeping economic impact of COVID-19 has left governments balancing between defending competition, so prices don’t become prohibitive, and granting exemptions to competition rules to ensure the survival of entire economic sectors.
Though many competition authorities have heeded the call made by UNCTAD in April and deployed various tools to limit the adverse consequences of COVID-19 in the markets, the pandemic has weakened competition globally.
For instance, many undercapitalized companies from fiscally stressed developing countries now face competition from stronger foreign rivals strengthened by massive financial support from their governments’ stimulus packages.
Small and medium enterprises or startups in financial difficulty also risk becoming attractive targets for acquisition by dominant firms, especially multinational companies.
The pandemic has raised fears that mergers and acquisitions could increase, subsequently raising market concentration.
In addition, countries might adopt trade restrictive measures to make imports more expensive and less competitive to favour domestic production in their efforts to boost economic recovery.
The conference will examine how to bolster competition to keep prices low and level the playing field to continue advancing the welfare of consumers in open markets.
Participants will also review the implementation of the UN set of principles on competition, which set establish rules for the control of anti-competitive practices.
Further, they will consider proposed guiding policies and procedures of the principles for cooperation on competition issues among developing and developed countries.
The outcomes of the conference will guide UNCTAD’s future work on competition and consumer protection, including technical assistance and capacity-building for developing countries, least developed countries and countries with economies in transition.
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the shift towards a more digital world. A recent online consumer survey shows that changes in online shopping behaviours are likely to have lasting effects.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed online shopping behaviours, according to a survey of about 3,700 consumers in nine emerging and developed economies.
The survey, entitled “COVID-19 and E-commerce”, examined how the pandemic has changed the way consumers use e-commerce and digital solutions. It covered Brazil, China, Germany, Italy, the Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, South Africa, Switzerland and Turkey.
Following the pandemic, more than half of the survey’s respondents now shop online more frequently and rely on the internet more for news, health-related information and digital entertainment.
Consumers in emerging economies have made the greatest shift to online shopping, the survey shows.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the shift towards a more digital world. The changes we make now will have lasting effects as the world economy begins to recover,” said UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi.
He said the acceleration of online shopping globally underscores the urgency of ensuring all countries can seize the opportunities offered by digitalization as the world moves from pandemic response to recovery.
Online purchases rise but consumer spending falls
The survey conducted by UNCTAD and Netcomm Suisse eCommerce Association, in collaboration with the Brazilian Network Information Center (NIC.br) and Inveon, shows that online purchases have increased by 6 to 10 percentage points across most product categories.
The biggest gainers are ICT/electronics, gardening/do-it-yourself, pharmaceuticals, education, furniture/household products and cosmetics/personal care categories (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Percentage of online shoppers making at least one online purchase every two months
Source: UNCTAD and NetComm Suisse eCommerce Association
However, average online monthly spending per shopper has dropped markedly (Figure 2). Consumers in both emerging and developed economies have postponed larger expenditures, with those in emerging economies focusing more on essential products.
Tourism and travel sectors have suffered the strongest decline, with average spending per online shopper dropping by 75%.
Figure 2: Fall of average online spending per month since COVID-19, per product category
Source: UNCTAD and NetComm Suisse eCommerce Association
“During the pandemic, online consumption habits in Brazil have changed significantly, with a greater proportion of internet users buying essential products, such as food and beverages, cosmetics and medicines,” said Alexandre Barbosa, manager of the Regional Center of Studies on the Development of Information Society (Cetic.br) at the Brazilian Network Information Center (NIC.br).
Increases in online shopping during COVID-19 differ between countries, with the strongest rise noted in China and Turkey and the weakest in Switzerland and Germany, where more people were already engaging in e-commerce.
The survey found that women and people with tertiary education increased their online purchases more than others. People aged 25 to 44 reported a stronger increase compared with younger ones. In the case of Brazil, the increase was highest among the most vulnerable population and women.
Also, according to survey responses, small merchants in China were most equipped to sell their products online and those in South Africa were least prepared.
“Companies that put e-commerce at the heart of their business strategies are prepared for the post-COVID-19 era,” said Yomi Kastro, founder and CEO of Inveon. “There is an enormous opportunity for industries that are still more used to physical shopping, such as fast-moving consumer goods and pharmaceuticals.”
“In the post-COVID-19 world, the unparalleled growth of e-commerce will disrupt national and international retail frameworks,” said Carlo Terreni, President, NetComm Suisse eCommerce Association.
“This is why policymakers should adopt concrete measures to facilitate e-commerce adoption among small and medium enterprises, create specialized talent pools and attract international e-commerce investors.”
Digital giants grow stronger
According to the survey, the most used communication platforms are WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger, all owned by Facebook.
However, Zoom and Microsoft Teams have benefitted the most from increases in the use of video calling applications in workplaces.
In China, the top communication platforms are WeChat, DingTalk and Tencent Conference, the survey shows.
Changes are here to stay
The survey results suggest that changes in online activities are likely to outlast the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most respondents, especially those in China and Turkey, said they’d continue shopping online and focusing on essential products in the future.
They’d also continue to travel more locally, suggesting a lasting impact on international tourism.
Webinar on survey findings
Until now the embroidered cooking gloves, tablecloths, and doormats produced by these workers have been sold through bazaars and exhibitions, but Wijaya has greater ambitions. “Having an online shop can boost the sales of these products through online marketing and transactions and, in turn, improve the livelihoods of its members,” she said.
Using digital applications is not new for Laura. She specialises in training deaf teachers to teach sign language to those who can hear, and is familiar with a variety of online applications.
The 29-year-old, who is herself deaf, was one of 19 people with disabilities selected to take part in ILO training programmes on creating online shop applications and online shop administration. The sessions covered key skills including online store design, platforms, databases, transaction and customer management, inventory and sales administration as well as digital marketing. Coaching by business mentors and technical advice from programmers was also available. Wijaya participated in the training on creating online shop applications.
The aim was to improve incomes and create more sustainable livelihoods in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The spread of the virus has made the training even more relevant due to many businesses being forced to close their physical locations.
In total, 624 people from throughout Indonesia joined the online training that took place in six batches from May to August 2020. As well as the group with disabilities, the trainees included business owners and laid-off workers. 58 percent of participants were women.
The programmes were offered as part of the ILO’s Women in STEM Project , which aims to help women gain quality employment and support their career advancement, particularly related to information technology. They were delivered in partnership with the Indonesian Retail Association (APRINDO).
ILO research has found that women workers have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 crisis, both in their paid work and in the additional care responsibilities they have had to take on.
“Women are more vulnerable to lose their jobs compared to men as they are employed in the worst affected sectors such as accommodation, food, sales and manufacturing,” said Navitri Putri Guillaume, the ILO’s Project Officer for Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). “While both women and men have lost their income, we prioritize assistance to women as they are more vulnerable to the impact of COVID-19 outbreak.”
Laura agrees that women – particularly those with an added hurdle created by disabilities – can be particularly vulnerable to changes created by new technology. She sees the training as a chance to update and upgrade her skills and improve her chances of staying competitive as COVID-19 reshapes the world of work.
“One of the reasons I joined the training is to show that women, including women with disabilities, are adaptive to the changes. If we are given a chance, we can also improve our digital skills,” Laura said.
The Women in STEM Workforce Readiness and Development Programme (2017-2020) funded by the J.P. Morgan Chase Foundation seeks to provide women in Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines with critical soft and technical STEM-related skills, employability and leadership training.
The Third ASEAN Inclusive Business Summit convened today with government officials and business leaders advocating for inclusive business strategies that support micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) to recover from economic setbacks during the COVID-19 pandemic in the South-East Asia region. The region already faced an ambitious challenge to reach its SDG targets by 2030 – there are concerns that this may be moving even further out of reach.
Organized by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), the Inclusive Business Action Network (iBAN) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Summit marked the continued commitment of the ASEAN Community, including government representatives, the private sector, investors and development organizations, to create an enabling ecosystem for inclusive business.
“As countries look to build back better from the COVID-19 pandemic – including by supporting small and medium enterprises, promoting women’s economic empowerment and accelerating the digital transformation – inclusive businesses have the potential to be a driving force for transformation towards a green, inclusive and resilient ASEAN,” said ESCAP Deputy Executive Secretary Mr. Kaveh Zahedi in his opening remarks.
The Summit also introduced the Guidelines for the Promotion of Inclusive Business in ASEAN and explored its practical application on a national and regional level. The Guidelines were endorsed by the ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM) during the 52nd AEM Meeting in August 2020 and serve as an outline on how inclusive businesses can be supported at all levels and the institutional requirements to do so.
“The inclusive business model compels us to connect the dynamics between the government, private sector and low-income and poor communities, including the micro and small enterprises in achieving national and regional objectives. The Guidelines provide a greater understanding of these dynamics for ASEAN Member States and the region collectively to move on to consider integrating inclusive business in their national and regional policies,” said Mr. Bountheung Douangsavanh, Chair of the ASEAN Coordinating Committee on Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (ACCMSME).
As the sectoral body coordinating MSME development in the region, the ACCMSME, with the support of ESCAP, iBAN and OECD has been at the forefront of promoting the inclusive business model in ASEAN and advocating its alignment with the MSME-development policies. The Guidelines for the Promotion of Inclusive Business in ASEAN is a culmination of past initiatives, building on interactions and lessons learnt since 2018.
Leveraging the wealth of expertise in the region, the Summit also explored partnerships in knowledge, digital platforms, investments and facilitation that enable the growth of inclusive business in ASEAN and their social impact. As business leaders and governments make progress in promoting inclusive business, delegates discussed how they can work together to address the challenges posed by COVID-19 and how women, overrepresented among the poor, can be better included in value chains as well as the role of social enterprises contributing to inclusive business models.
“The current crisis shows us that inclusive businesses are more resilient against such external shocks and contribute to a speedy and sustainable recovery. It is therefore of utmost importance that the framework conditions for such businesses are being improved and companies are being encouraged to develop their business model in a direction that not only serves the needs of the company but also the needs of the most vulnerable and poor in the communities,” said Mr. Christian Jahn, Executive Director, iBAN.
Inclusive businesses provide goods, services, and livelihoods on a commercially viable basis, to people living at the base of the pyramid making them part of the value chain of companies as suppliers, distributors, retailers, or customers. Since 2017, ASEAN governments have started developing policies to encourage more inclusive businesses to emerge and scale up. At the same time, business leaders, the finance community and other stakeholders have stepped up to the task of developing inclusive business models for economic growth and social impact at scale.
“Recovering from the COVID-19 crisis will require a whole-of-society effort. Working hand in hand with governments and all stakeholders, businesses can contribute to a recovery that is sustainable, resilient and inclusive by embracing business models and taking operational decisions that are in line with international recommendations on responsible business conduct,” shared Ms. Cristina Tebar Less, Head of Responsible Business Conduct Centre, OECD.
Read the Guidelines for the Promotion of Inclusive Business in ASEAN: https://asean.org/storage/2020/09/ASEAN-IB-Promotion-Guidelines-Endorsed-at-the-52nd-AEM.pdf.
We need trust, fairness, and to include women in decision-making.
Anyone with a mobile phone understands the potential of digital services at your fingertips.
And yet we also know that digital technologies are not always inclusive or fair. Women, in particular, have not equally benefited from digital technologies in their everyday lives. This is especially the case in financial services in Africa – and especially now in the time of COVID-19.
Improving choices for women
The economic activity of women and girls often goes unrecognized. However, women are actively engaged as economic actors across value chains: as producers, consumers, business owners, or community members who influence markets and policy (UNHLP 2016).
Creating equitable financial and economic systems recognizes women’s role as pillar of the economy and enables them to contribute in even larger ways, to the benefit of everyone — by to saving for the future, taking credit to fund a business, or making school payments. Digital technology can help do this. But it must be applied in a way that is inclusive and fair.
Creating an inclusive financial sector
Many variables impact the creation of an inclusive financial sector. For example, investment in necessary interoperable payment infrastructure, equitable ID systems, and rules that promote access and trust of services. The G7 Partnership for Women’s Digital Financial Inclusion in Africa is an excellent example of how governments, development actors, and services providers are coming together to address each variable, so the outcome is more than the sum of its parts.
UNCDF Policy Accelerator‘s role is to support governments reform their policies and regulations in order to accelerate digital financial inclusion and specifically women’s. There is no simple process to accelerate digital financial inclusion, but it highly depends on two crucial factors:
1. Policies and regulations
Policies and regulations play a critical part in promoting women’s financial inclusion because, they create space for digital financial services that women need, while keeping the system secure. Government policies have an outsized impact on how inclusive markets develop and leverage new technologies. Smart policies and regulations can address the built-in biases that often prevent women from accessing and using financial services.
There are many policies and regulations the impact financial inclusion, and among them several ‘basic’ regulatory enablers that are pre-conditions to large scale digital financial inclusion. Of these ‘basic’ regulatory enablers, making it easier to open an account and designing consumer protection rules to promote trust and fairness are critical to women’s economic empowerment.
Easy account opening
Account opening should be widely accessible, with or without identification. This is made possible if regulations are risk-based and establish thresholds limits that are affordable for women. There is a clear global precedent for risk-based account opening standards. Many markets need to adapt these to the local context.
Trust and fairness
Promoting trust and fairness is equally important but perhaps less clear. Defining ‘trust’ and ‘fairness’ in financial consumer protection regulation can be a murky process. Yet this should not dissuade regulators from doing so. Women are more likely to use new services when their privacy is protected and have recourse when mistreated. Services providers are responsible for building this trust, while governments are responsible for setting standards of practice and holding providers accountable.
2. Women are part of the process
Women need to be in the room when important decisions are made.
Governments should support female policymakers and regulators to develop their skills to design, govern, and adapt rules that promote inclusive financial services. Building the capacity of women in decision making roles is critical but also insufficient. Women’s groups and their representatives should also be consulted in designing and implementing policies that will directly impact them. This is particularly the case for consumer protection regulations, where privacy, transparency, and fairness are addressed directly.
It is also in the interest of governments to strive to understand the unique experiences of different groups of women in their markets so policy reforms are more targeted and meaningful. For example, women in cities will have a different experience than those in rural areas, while female entrepreneurs will likely suffer different limitations than stay-at-home mothers.
The process of empowering women to control their financial lives will not end with a single regulation or access to identification. Government reforms need to sustain the pace of change that is accelerating with the rise of digital services. That’s how today’s reforms will pay off in the long term.
As a member of the G7 Partnership for Women’s Digital Financial Inclusion in Africa, UNCDF is committed to pursuing these avenues of change through its Africa Policy Accelerator project. In collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the French Ministry of Finance, the Policy Accelerator supports governments to design (or improve) consumer protection and account access regulations to serve women’s financial needs in Africa. We will do that by, among other activities, helping governments learn more about women’s needs in their local markets through research, while ensuring that women have a seat at the table.
The WIPO Pearl terminology database has added some 1,500 new COVID-19-related terms in 10 languages, helping innovators targeting new coronavirus treatments and diagnostics with a baseline set of terms and their multilingual equivalents. This advancement will foster international collaboration and promote easier access to information in patent documents and other public resources produced around the world.
From today, WIPO Pearl now contains 147 key concepts related to COVID-19, amounting to nearly 1,500 terms as each concept is given in 10 languages. They are primarily drawn from the fields of biology, medicine (especially epidemiology and diagnostics), and public health and each concept is provided in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish, which are also the official languages of WIPO’s International Patent System. The aim is to help provide consistency and clarity across different languages regarding key terminology of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Innovation is increasingly global in nature, so a verified multilingual set of commonly understood COVID-19-related terms creates a knowledge base that helps researchers access and build upon work created in another language,” said WIPO Director General Francis Gurry. “WIPO is providing this upgraded service in support of the global drive to find new treatments and vaccines for the coronavirus, which is the quintessential global challenge requiring mutual comprehension and cooperation.”
These COVID-19 terms are available in the WIPO Pearl database, which contains nearly 200,000 terms in total on subjects ranging from biopesticides, chatbots and green chemistry to nanosatellites, quantum computing and virtual reality. The terms also exist in a separate stand-alone glossary on the WIPO Pearl website. The glossary is divided into topics and, within each topic, concepts are listed according to the relations among them. This allows related concepts to be viewed together and helps to understand how they are associated – something that would not be possible with an alphabetical listing.
The glossary also contains links to the full terminology record in WIPO Pearl for each concept, where definitions, multilingual equivalents, contexts illustrating term usage and meaning, and term reliability scores can be found, as well as “concept maps” which graphically and dynamically depict how each concept relates to other concepts.
The collection of COVID-19 terms is also linked to PATENTSCOPE: a one-click search launched either from the glossary or from the WIPO Pearl application (Linguistic Search or Concept Map Search) that allows any patents containing these terms, in any of the 10 languages, to be easily retrieved. A researcher could, for example, start with an English term and, by using the validated equivalents for the term in other languages, be able to retrieve relevant patents in up to nine other languages.
Since these COVID-19 terms are of particular relevance currently, WIPO has made them available for free download. Users may access a .pdf file containing the terms in all of the languages and a definition in English for each concept, or an .xml file that allows the collection of COVID-19 terminology to be integrated into other applications, such as computer-assisted translation software or data mining tools.
Seventy bilingual terminology records (200 terms) in the collection were provided by students at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. WIPO-PCT language experts provided the remaining 77 records in the collection and added 1,300 terms in different languages to ensure that all 147 concepts are provided in all 10 languages of WIPO Pearl. Further concepts will be added to the collection in the coming months.
More about WIPO Pearl
WIPO Pearl was launched in 2014 to promote accurate and consistent use of scientific and technical terms across the ten languages of publication of the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), the WIPO-administered International Patent System, making it easier to search and share scientific and technical knowledge across different languages. The database, developed by experienced WIPO language experts and terminologists, now contains over 190,000 terms. The interface is available in 10 languages and also in a mobile-friendly form.
Scientific and technical terms can be searched in 45 different language combinations, offering the possibility to search between European and Asian languages, as well as between any of these languages and Arabic. This makes WIPO Pearl unique amongst the current offering of language resources available freely on the Web. Knowledge-rich contexts are provided for each term to help illustrate what it means and how it is used.
Also unique to WIPO Pearl are Concept Maps, which allow the user to browse domain knowledge by exploring links between concepts. These links have been researched and manually entered by WIPO terminologists to show concepts that are broader or narrower in scope than other concepts. Users also have the option to exploit information displayed in subsets of Concept Maps – so-called Concept Paths – to conduct combined keyword searches in PATENTSCOPE, WIPO’s patent database. PATENTSCOPE can also be accessed directly from the hit-list of results obtained by conducting a traditional search by term in the Linguistic Search interface.
In addition to providing human-built Concept Maps, WIPO Pearl leverages artificial intelligence (AI) to generate so-called Concept Clouds – suggested new clusters of relations between concepts. WIPO Pearl is the first terminology database to feature such an innovation.
WIPO Pearl is also integrated with WIPO Translate, WIPO’s internally developed machine translation engine featuring innovative AI neural machine translation technology, so as to offer the user machine-translated suggestions when a term is not available in one of the target languages.
An ever-growing network of partners worldwide, including universities and government bodies, now helps to populate WIPO Pearl with new terms, whilst subject field experts in the partner institutions check the accuracy of terms in their field of specialization and raise the term reliability score.
The social and economic disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting our efforts to improve livelihoods and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The early responses to restraining the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic negatively impacted all transport operations, leading to severe disruptions of supply chains and trade flows worldwide. UNECE estimates that inland transport volumes may fall by up to 40 per cent in the pan-European region in 2020.
In a statement released today, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and Caribbean (UNECLAC), the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (UNESCWA) stress that international transport and integrated supply chains are critical in recovering from COVID-19 achieving the SDGs.
The signatories call on all Governments to maximize the contribution of international trade and supply chains to a sustainable socio-economic recovery through greater use of international legal instruments and standards, as well as strengthened regional and sectoral cooperation.
United Nations instruments – such as the UNECE-administered TIR Convention and its eTIR International System, and the CMR Convention – facilitate the use of a safe and efficient intermodal transport system. These instruments allow for moving cargo across borders without requiring physical checks and for reducing contact between people.
Single Windows enable traders to communicate electronically with all agencies involved. International standards for data exchange, such as those developed by UN/CEFACT also help reduce physical contact and enhance streamlined processes.
The signatories support further digitalization of trade and customs procedures, using global United Nations standards, to ensure the fast and secure exchange of data and information concerning cargo and means of transport and contactless clearances.
They encourage all governments to take a risk-based approach to restoring air, inland and maritime connectivity with minimal restrictions, while preventing the spread of COVID-19, protecting the health and safety of drivers, crew and border agency personnel, as well as strengthening public confidence in trade and transport means.
They call upon Governments to embark on the process to review international and regional trade agreements, as deemed necessary, and ensure they contain provisions to facilitate trade and transport in times of crisis and pandemics.
The signatories call upon member States to take appropriate action in facilitating and dematerializing trade and transport value chains.
They also reiterated support to member States to ensure a sustainable socio-economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Source : https://www.unece.org/info/media/presscurrent-press-h/transport/2020/eight-un-organizations-stress-critical-role-of-international-transport-and-integrated-supply-chains-for-covid-19-recovery-and-the-sdgs/doc.html
This Online repository provides access to written contributions submitted by participants to the Policy Hackathon on Model Provisions for Trade in Times of Crisis and Pandemic in Regional and Other Trade Agreements. The contributions featured in this Online repository have been made available as received and are under the sole responsibility of their author(s). Upon submission, participants have declared that their contribution is their own autonomous work, that all the sources have been correctly cited and listed as references and that any eventual errors or inaccuracies are the fault of the authors. The contributions do not represent the views of the United Nations or that of any other Policy Hackathon organizing and participating institutions. The inclusion of the contributions in the online repository does not constitute an endorsement of the contents by the United Nations and Policy Hackathon organizers. The contributions are unedited work in progress willingly contributed by their authors during the Policy Hackathon and are publicly accessible for all to use at their own risk with reference to the author(s). It is hoped that this emerging body of knowledge will provide a useful basis and inspiration for trade policymakers and negotiators to develop regional and other trade agreements that can increase trade resilience in times of crisis and pandemic and support recovery and building back better. To make it easier to browse through, the contributions have been grouped according to different topics/categories. Contributions that have been identified by the Expert Group as standing out in terms of quality, relevance, comprehensiveness and/or originality are identified with a “ ”. A brief overview of contributions is also available here.
The Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) on Thursday launched a new COVID-19 cross-border trade report urging governments on the continent to adopt and harmonize policies that will help continent strike an appropriate balance between curbing the spread of the virus and facilitating emergency and essential trade.
Titled Facilitating cross-border trade through a coordinated African response to COVID-19, the report says continued inefficiencies and disruptions to cross-border trade presented significant challenges for Africa’s fight against COVID-19, and risked holding back the continent’s progress towards the attainment of the sustainable development and goals and Africa’s Agenda 2063.
Maintaining trade flows as much as possible during the pandemic will be crucial in providing access to essential food and much-needed medical items and in limiting negative impacts on jobs and poverty, said Mr. Stephen Karingi, Director of the ECA’s Regional Integration and Trade Division (RITD) that penned the report.
To curtail the rapid spread of the virus, African nations introduced lockdowns and various restrictions that negatively affected cross-border and transit freight transportation.
The border restrictions and regulations have helped minimize infections and deaths across the continent but had a negative impact on cross-border trade and economic activity, hindering both significantly.
The report recommends that African nations should cooperate and harmonize COVID-19 border regulations to reduce delays, while not undermining the safety of trade. It proposes fast tracking implementation of existing Regional Economic Community (REC) COVID-19 guidelines, including establishing regional coordinating committees with the primary task of addressing operational issues at national borders.
In addition, the report says regional efforts must also be coordinated at continental level through the African Union Commission. A common COVID-19 AU Protocol on trade and transport is needed given the overlap in membership of RECs and shared trade facilitation goals of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
“In developing such a protocol, the experiences and best practices of RECs need to be taken into account,” said Mr. Karingi during the launch.
A common African Union COVID-19 test certificate for truck drivers and crew members will be crucial to facilitate movement of essential personnel across borders with the least possible interference.
Amid the pandemic, African economies should not let COVID-19 undermine regional integration and must maintain the momentum and ambition of the AfCFTA process, said Mr. Karingi.
Panelists and participants agreed that digital solutions are crucial in helping continent address outstanding cross border trade issues for example electronic cargo tracking systems, electronic signatures and documents, and the use of mobile banking and payment systems to support safe and efficient trade.
“COVID-19 has increased the urgency for us to do better and find innovative solutions to facilitate safe and efficient cross-border trade. It will be important for Africa to maintain and upgrade these solutions post COVID-19, to lower trade costs, boost competitiveness, and support more resilient cross-border trade in the face of future shocks,” said Mr. Karingi.
For his part, Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) Lovemore Bingandadi said COVID-19 lessons should be used to improve efficiencies in cross-border trade on the continent.
“Africa’s response could have been better had they been done at continental level when the pandemic struck. Nevertheless, it has given us an opportunity to address in a coordinated way longstanding cross-border trade challenges that we face,” he said.
Mr. Bingandadi emphasized continental solutions were the best way to deal with the border inefficiencies and cross-border trade issues, adding the AfCFTA would go a long way in helping address these.
UNCTAD’s Technology and Logistics Director, Shamika Sirimanne, for her part emphasized the importance of innovation and technology to fight the pandemic and in helping Africa building back better in the aftermath of the crisis.
“COVID-19 has shown us the need for information-sharing and use of technologies for coordinated responses in the area of trade and transport connectivity,” said Ms. Sirimanne.