Covid-19 News

In her remarks today at the official opening of the final week of the Virtual World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum 2020, ICAO Secretary General Dr. Fang Liu underscored that information and communications technologies are critical to aviation’s role in global UN Sustainable Development Goal attainment, and to how air transport will build back better post-COVID-19.

“Increased air transport digitalization promotes critical efficiencies and capabilities which improve our sector’s capabilities as a catalyst for socio-economic and sustainability benefits,” Dr. Liu stated. “This is especially relevant given that ICAO-compliant air services and international connectivity are already improving global outcomes toward the achievement of 15 of the 17 SDGs.”

Summarizing the devastation COVID-19 is now wreaking on global air connectivity, Dr. Liu also strongly emphasized how digital capabilities will be critical to air transport’s post-pandemic recovery.

“Whether we are talking entirely new technologies, or new applications of existing technologies, digital, AR, and AI solutions are now at hand to permit us to pre-screen passengers and cargo more extensively than ever before, for both health and security risks, and with greater efficiency and less disruption,” Dr. Liu said. “They also provide the foundations for the next generation of autonomous aircraft, drones, and the transformations that Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) will lead to in terms of personal mobility, e-commerce, civilian and community services, and many other applications.”

Dr. Liu also reiterated that, with innovation and digitization set to play such an important role in how we restart and recover on a more sustainable path, and at an ever-increasing rate, ICAO is embracing it today as never before.

“We’re working to achieve greater flexibility, responsiveness, and efficiency where the assessment and rule-making on emerging technologies is concerned, and an important part of my message to you today is that you can count on us to be your committed and effective partner going forward in all things innovation related,” Dr. Liu commented. “We have a great deal we can accomplish together, and ICAO will continue to rely on the partnership and vision of the ITU as we progress together toward a greener, more sustainable, and more innovative digital future for coming generations.”


E-Residency is readymade for remote working entrepreneurs, so at a time when many people around the world are looking to start their own small businesses or shift to freelance work online as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Estonia’s groundbreaking programme is more relevant than ever. Having access to Estonia’s digital nation enables 70,000 e-residents from over 170 countries to run their businesses entirely online from anywhere.

What is e-Residency?

E-Residency is a digital identity issued by the Republic of Estonia to people outside its borders, which enables them to securely verify themselves online and access all tools needed to launch an online business.  E-residents can register an EU-based company within a day, digitally sign and encrypt documents and contracts in line with the highest EU standards, access a range of business banking and payment options, and declare and pay taxes online. Last but not least, they join a global community of like-minded remote entrepreneurs and startup founders from around the world.

The programme is especially attractive for location-independent entrepreneurs who want to set up a company based in the trusted, transparent business environment of Estonia and by extension the EU. E-residents run businesses in a range of sectors, including IT and digital marketing, consulting, translation, recruitment, and eCommerce. Like Christoph Huebner, originally from Germany, who runs his insurance startup while travelling around the world. Or Glasgow-based Vicky Brock, who set up her Estonian company to keep her business in the EU after Brexit. Read more e-resident stories on our blog.

How did COVID-19 impact e-Residency and e-residents?

Despite the disruptions caused by COVID-19, e-Residency applications and access to Estonia’s e-services have been unaffected. E-residents have continued to access all digital services in the country, including the company registration portal, tax board website (EMTA), online banking, and more. Due to travel restrictions or border closures, some e-residents have at times faced disruptions in picking up their digital IDs, but we continue to work hard along with Estonia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to alleviate and address these.

The e-Residency team has also shifted our 2020 priorities and activities as a result of COVID-19 by focusing on how we can help e-resident entrepreneurs withstand the uncertain economic situation. This has involved transforming the way we interact with our community of e-residents, for example by offering more online events and webinars in lieu of physical meet-ups and helping raise the profile of e-resident businesses on our website, blog, and social media. COVID-19 has also highlighted the need for us to accelerate longer term projects and strategies to open up access to e-Residency to more people around the world, e.g. by expanding pickup locations and looking at how to make the pickup process more seamless.

In our covid impact survey, we learned that many e-resident entrepreneurs are also adapting their businesses, including by pivoting to new revenue streams, going virtual, finding new clients and markets, or helping those in need. The survey respondents confirmed that e-Residency has made it easier to undertake these activities during the crisis as it is ready made for running a borderless business remotely, supporting a lean and agile company setup, and focusing on creating value.

COVID-19 has also revealed that our community is full of good samaritans.  Every day, we hear inspiring stories about those using their skills for good, like Sri Lankan e-resident Alagan Mahalingam and his team at Expert Republic offering an all-in-one video platform for professionals to offer online consultations and Vicky Brock tackling the increase in online scams and misinformation created by the crisis through her company Vistalworks. Plus, we set up a community page for e-residents to volunteer their time and expertise for others doing it tough and were blown away with the response and the generosity of what was on offer.

How to apply?

It’s simple and quick to become an e-resident and join our 70,000-strong community. The first step is to apply online and pay the state fee. Your application will be checked by Estonia’s Police and Border Guard, which normally takes around 30 days. If approved, they will email you and let you know when your digital ID card and e-Residency kit is ready for pickup. Once you have your digital ID, you can establish your business and start taking advantage of all that Estonia’s e-services offer. Find out more and subscribe to our newsletter at the e-Residency website.


The disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic on global value chains and its impact on African businesses is already evident. As factories close their doors and border closures and travel restrictions interrupt supply chains, the workers – the most vulnerable and lowest paid people in the fashion supply chain – have been left to feel the worst effects.

Building more resilient value chains through innovative business models that will keep garments in use longer, use renewable materials and recycle old clothes into new products, was the focus of discussions during the second webinar event organized Thursday 3 September, by the African Development Bank’s Fashionomics Africa(link is external) initiative in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme. Eighty-eight attendees joined the event.

The panel was composed of industry experts from Parsons School of Design in New-York, the UK-based charity – Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the creative minds behind sustainable African fashion brands, Orange Culture, Mariama Fashion Production and Qaaldesigns.

“My dream is to develop a healthy fashion industry in Africa. We need to be able to rely and build ourselves from our own system. At the end of the day, we have so much that needs to be done and we can’t do it alone,” Orange Culture Adebayo Oke-Lawal, said.

“Covid-19 forced our world to rethink our system. We can absolutely do this in an excellent way. It’s a question of interconnection and understanding. My waste could be someone else’s resources. What is needed is collaboration and breaking down the typical silos fashionpreneurs face in the industry,” said Brendan McCarthy of the Parsons School of Design.

The goal of the Bank’s Fashionomics Africa platform is to enable African entrepreneurs operating in the Textile, Apparel and Accessories industry to create and grow their businesses, with a focus on women and youth. Through the Fashionomics Africa Digital Marketplace and Mobile App, the Bank is also analyzing the impact of the textile sector on climate change and environment to deploy climate-friendly solutions in Africa.

McCarthy, who said digital tools have become a phenomenon and have revolutionized the way the fashion industry works, noted that Parsons School of Design is working closely with the Bank to leverage digital tools to support the African textile and fashion industry.

“African fashion entrepreneurs see in the pandemic and the acceleration of digital tools, an opportunity to reconceptualize and better educate designers, but also consumers,” said Bintou Sadio Diallo, who spoke on behalf of the African Development Bank.

The Fashionomics Africa initiative intends to contribute to the African Textile, Apparel & Accessories industry by increasing the number of entrepreneurs accessing markets through e-commerce capabilities, boosting their access to finance, technical and business skills and forging strategic partnerships with key contributors.

The Fashionomics Africa webinar series is available for fashion entrepreneurs, digital enthusiasts and creative minds on the platform.

Source : AfDB News


The COVID-19 pandemic is severely pressuring a long-building rise in worldwide innovation, likely hindering some innovative activities while catalyzing ingenuity elsewhere, notably in the health sector, according to the Global Innovation Index (GII) 2020.

The GII 2020’s theme asks Who Will Finance Innovation? A key question is how the economic fallout from the COVID-19 crisis will impact start-ups, venture capital, and other traditional sources of innovation financing. Many governments are setting up emergency relief packages to cushion the impact of the lockdown and face the looming recession. But the GII 2020 advises that further rounds of support must prioritize and then broaden support for innovation, particularly for smaller enterprises and start-ups that are facing hurdles in accessing rescue packages.

“The rapid, worldwide spread of the coronavirus requires fresh thinking to ensure a shared victory over this quintessential global challenge,” says WIPO Director General Francis Gurry. “Even as we all grapple with the immediate human and economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments need to ensure that rescue packages are future oriented and support the individuals, research institutes, companies and others with innovative and collaborative new ideas for the post-COVID era. Innovations equal solutions.”

In its associated annual ranking of the world’s economies on innovation capacity and output, the GII shows year-on-year stability at the top, but a gradual eastward shift in the locus of innovation as a group of Asian economies – notably China, India, the Philippines and Viet Nam – have advanced considerably in the innovation ranking over the years.

Switzerland, Sweden, U.S., U.K and Netherlands lead the innovation ranking, with a second Asian economy – the Republic of Korea – joining the top 10 for the first time (Singapore is number 8). The top 10 is dominated by high-income countries.

Global rankings

All 2020 rankings

  1. Switzerland (Number 1 in 2019)
  2. Sweden (2)
  3. United States of America (3)
  4. United Kingdom (5)
  5. Netherlands (4)
  6. Denmark (7)
  7. Finland (6)
  8. Singapore (8)
  9. Germany (9)
  10. Republic of Korea (11)
  11. Hong Kong (China) (13)
  12. France (16)
  13. Israel (10)
  14. China (14)
  15. Ireland (12)
  16. Japan (15)
  17. Canada (17)
  18. Luxembourg (18)
  19. Austria (21)
  20. Norway (19)

The GII 2020 in Motion

Video: This short video highlights the key takeaways from the GII 2020.

A shifting innovation landscape

The geography of innovation continues to shift, the GII 2020 shows. Over the years, India, China, the Philippines, and Viet Nam are the economies with the most significant progress in their GII innovation ranking over time. All four are now in the top 50.

The top-performing economies in the GII are still almost exclusively from the high-income group, with China (14th) remaining the only middle-income economy in the GII top 30. Malaysia (33rd) follows. India (48th) and the Philippines (50th) make it to the top 50 for the first time. The Philippines achieves its best rank ever—in 2014, it ranked 100th. Heading the lower middle-income group, Viet Nam ranks 42nd for the second consecutive year— from 71st in 2014. Indonesia (85th) joins the top 10 of this group. Tanzania tops the low-income group (88th).

“As shown by China, India and Viet Nam, the persistent pursuit of innovation pays off over time,” says Former Dean and Professor of Management at Cornell University Soumitra Dutta. “The GII has been used by governments of those countries and others around the world to improve their innovation performance.”

New findings for the GII 2020

  • The COVID-19 crisis hit the innovation landscape at a time when innovation was flourishing. In 2018, research and development (R&D) spending grew by 5.2%, i.e., significantly faster than global gross domestic product (GDP) growth, after rebounding strongly from the financial crisis of 2008-2009. Venture capital (VC) and the use of intellectual property (IP) were at an all-time high.
  • In the context of the GII 2020 theme Who Will Finance Innovation?, one of the GII findings is that the money to fund innovative ventures is drying up. VC deals are in sharp decline across North America, Asia, and Europe. The impact of this shortage in innovation finance will be uneven, with the negative effects felt more heavily by early-stage VCs, by R&D-intensive start-ups, and in countries that are not typically VC hotspots.
Cyclical Research and Development Investments, 2001-2020
  • While the impacts of the pandemic on the science and innovation systems will take time to unfold, there are positive signs of increased international collaboration in science. At the same time, there are concerns of major research projects being disrupted and international closure in the pursuit of innovation.
  • The COVID-19 crisis has already catalyzed innovation in many new and traditional sectors, such as health, education, tourism and retail.

“There are now genuine risks to international openness and collaboration on innovation. Faced with unprecedented challenges, whether sanitary, environmental, economic or social, the world needs to combine efforts and resources to ensure the continuous financing of innovation,” says INSEAD Executive Director for Global Indices Bruno Lanvin.

GII 2020 regional innovation leaders

Region / rank Country GII 2020 global rank
Northern America
1 United States of America 3
2 Canada 17
Sub-Saharan Africa
1 South Africa* 60
2 Kenya 86
3 United Republic of Tanzania 88
Latin America and the Caribbean
1 Chile 54
2 Mexico 55
3 Costa Rica 56
Central and Southern Asia
1 India 48
2 Iran, Islamic Republic of 67
3 Kazakhstan 77
Northern Africa and Western Asia
1 Israel 13
2 Cyprus 29
3 United Arab Emirates 34
South East Asia, East Asia, and Oceania
1 Singapore 8
2 Republic of Korea 10
3 Hong Kong, China 11
1 Switzerland 1
2 Sweden 2
3 United Kingdom 4
*Mauritius ranks 52nd this year. However, the 2020 rank for Mauritius has wide significant data variability as compared to last year. A mix of new data availability, data revisions at the source and performance effects explain Mauritius’ rank movements.

Northern America

The two economies in Northern America, the U.S. and Canada, rank in the top 20 in this year’s GII.
The U.S. maintains its 3rd position this year, thanks to its strong performance across all GII areas. It is the first economy worldwide in the GII indicators that capure the quality of innovation, with its excellent universities and high-quality scientific publications. The U.S. hosts the largest number (25) of top science and technology clusters in the world, led by the San Jose-San Francisco cluster.


Sixteen of the GII leaders in the top 25 are European countries, with seven of them ranking in the top 10.
Switzerland remains the world’s leader in innovation for the 10th consecutive year. A consistent producer of high-quality innovation outcomes, it improves in patents and venture capital deals.
A solid human capital and research system, coupled with a sophisticated market with innovative firms, put Sweden in the second spot for the second consecutive year.

Due to a combination of performance improvements and model changes, France is among the top 20 economies that saw the most impressive rank increase this year, taking the 12th position, its best GII rank since 2009. It ranks 5th in the new indicator global brand value and is in the top 10 in R&D-intensive global companies, quality of scientific publications, and research talent in business enterprises. France hosts five of the world top 100 science and technology clusters, with Paris ranking 10th this year.

South East Asia, East Asia, and Oceania

The two most innovative economies in this region – Singapore (8) and the Republic of Korea (10) – rank in the top 10. China retains its 14th position, after its rapid rise in recent years.

China has established itself as an innovation leader, with high ranks in important metrics including patents, utility models, trademarks, industrial designs, and creative goods exports. It boasts 17 of the top science and technology clusters worldwide – with Shenzhen-Hong Kong-Guangzhou and Beijing in the 2nd and 4th spots respectively.

The Republic of Korea moves into the top 10 group of the GII for the first time. It improves its ranks in various indicators, including environmental performance, patent families, quality of scientific publications, and high-technology manufactures, while retaining top 3 positions in R&D expenditures, researchers, and PCT patents. Three of its clusters make it to the top 100, with Seoul ranking 3rd worldwide.

In the region, Malaysia (33) and the Philippines (50) move up the ranking thanks to its first-class tertiary education system, sophisticated capital market, and a vibrant private sector. Malaysia excels in high-technology exports and creative goods exports. The Philippines enters the top 50 this year, with top 10 ranks in utility models, productivity growth, high-technology exports and imports, and ICT services exports.

Central and Southern Asia

India (48) retains the highest rank in the region, followed by the Islamic Republic of Iran (67).
Moving up four positions since last year, India becomes the third most innovative lower middle-income economy in the world, thanks to newly available indicators and improvements in various areas of the GII. It ranks in the top 15 in indicators such as ICT services exports, government online services, graduates in science and engineering, and R&D-intensive global companies. Thanks to universities such as the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay and Delhi and the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru, and its top scientific publications, India is the lower middle-income economy with the highest innovation quality.

This year Uzbekistan (93) enters the GII rankings and ranks 4th in its region, assisted by better data coverage. It ranks in the top 10 worldwide in three indicators: graduates in science and engineering, ease of starting a business, and capital investment.

Northern Africa and Western Asia

Israel (13), Cyprus (29), and the United Arab Emirates (34) are the top three economies in this region.
Israel is the world leader in several key indicators such as researchers, R&D expenditures, and university-industry research collaboration. Thanks to these investments, Israel remains a top innovation player, especially in ICT services exports.

Saudi Arabia (66) and Jordan (81) are among the economies that saw a significant improvement in their ranking this year, due to a combination of performance improvements and model changes. Saudi Arabia takes the the 3rd place in ease of protecting minority investors and ranks 13th in the state of cluster development. Jordan improves in variables related to the quality of its credit market, and in particular in ease of getting credit, domestic credit to private sector, and venture capital deals.

Latin America and the Caribbean

Chile (54) ranks first in the region, followed by Mexico (55) and Costa Rica (56).
BrazilMexico, and Argentina host global R&D companies and are among the top 10 middle-income economies in the quality of innovation. ChileUruguay, and Brazil produce high levels of scientific and technical articles, with Brazil making an impact also in patents.

The region performs well in the new indicator global brands value: MexicoBrazilColombia, and Argentina are all outperformers in this indicator, having many more valuable brands than their income levels would predict.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Mauritius (52), South Africa (60), Kenya (86) and the United Republic of Tanzania (88) are leading this region.
With high-quality institutions and a dynamic market, Mauritius is the 9th most innovative upper middle-income economy in the world. However, the 2020 rank for Mauritius has wide significant data variability as compared to last year. A mix of new data availability, data revisions at the source and performance effects explain Mauritius’ rank movements.

A sophisticated internal market is also the strongest area of South Africa, ranking first in market capitalization and ninth in domestic credit to the private sector. Kenya is among the economies holding the record of being innovation achievers for ten consecutive years, thanks to top 5 rankings in indicators such as ease of getting credit and R&D expenditures financed by abroad.

Tanzania benefits from a relatively well interlinked innovation system and good international connectivity and ranks in the top 25 in cost of redundancy dismissal and gross capital investment.

Rwanda (91) significantly improves its rankings this year, thanks partly by improved data coverage. It ranks in the top 15 in ease of getting credit, microfinance loans, and productivity growth.

About the Global Innovation Index

The Global Innovation Index 2020 (GII), in its 13th edition this year, is co-published by Cornell University, INSEAD, and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO, a specialized agency of the United Nations).

Published annually since 2007, the GII is now a leading benchmarking tool for business executives, policy makers and others seeking insight into the state of innovation around the world. Policymakers, business leaders and other stakeholders use the GII to evaluate progress on a continual basis.  The study benefits from the experience of its Knowledge Partners: Confederation of Indian Industry, Dassault Systèmes – The 3DEXPERIENCE Company, and the National Confederation of Industry (CNI)—Brazil, as well as of an Advisory Board of international experts.

The core of the GII Report consists of a ranking of world economies’ innovation capabilities and results. Recognizing the key role of innovation as a driver of economic growth and prosperity, and the need for a broad  vision of innovation applicable to developed and emerging economies, the GII includes indicators that go beyond the traditional measures of innovation, such as the level of research and development.

To support the global innovation debate, to guide polices and to highlight good practices, metrics are required to assess innovation and related policy performance. The GII creates an environment in which innovation factors are under continual evaluation, including the following features:

  • 131 country/economy profiles, including data, ranks, and strengths and weaknesses
  • 80 data tables for indicators from over 30 international public and private sources, of which 58 are hard data, 18 composite indicators, and 4 survey questions
  • A transparent and replicable computation methodology including 90% confidence intervals for each index ranking (GII, output and input sub-indices) and an analysis of factors affecting year-on-year changes in rankings

The GII 2020 is calculated as the average of two sub-indices. The Innovation Input Sub-Index gauges elements of the national economy which embody innovative activities grouped in five pillars: (1) Institutions, (2) Human capital and research, (3) Infrastructure, (4) Market sophistication, and (5) Business sophistication. The Innovation Output Sub-Index captures actual evidence of innovation results, divided in two pillars: (6) Knowledge and technology outputs and (7) Creative outputs.

The index is submitted to an independent statistical audit by the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission.


Urgent digital transformation is needed to create safe and secure cross border ecommerce customs clearance in the world’s poorest countries

Over the last few months, COVID-19 lockdown restrictions around the world have had a dramatic impact on cross border ecommerce, including a reduction in the volumes of international parcels postal operators are managing.

Ecommerce success globally had meant a flourishing of packages sent across borders, but coronavirus has caused a decline due to disruptions in transport capacity, the closure of borders and the impact the pandemic has had on consumer trust. Despite this, it is likely that global parcel supply chain infrastructure will be restored quickly by postal operators, transport companies and customs administrations.

This recovery and the return to higher and higher levels of mailings will require urgent digital transformation, especially considering an upcoming deadline for electronic communications on items being sent globally by post. And, action is needed to ensure some countries aren’t left behind.

The regulatory landscape is changing rapidly

The COVID-19 pandemic is only one of the elements currently impacting the growth of cross border ecommerce. This year and 2021 will see huge changes in the regulatory landscape for the international exchange of low-value parcels and packets through the global postal network, supported mainly by designated postal operators of Universal Postal Union (UPU) member countries. UPU members work to facilitate communications and social and economic inclusion through the provision of a universal service.

Electronic advising ahead of the sending of postal items will be critical in meeting legal requirements taking effect in 2020/21, such as those established by the United States of America (Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act), China, the Russian Federation and the European Union (Union Customs Code, Import Control System 2). Upcoming security requirements include sending pre-loading advance cargo information (PLACI) before an item leaves the country of origin, confirming the correct export processing to destination customs and transport airlines, and possibly sending security alerts back to the country of origin.

Bringing posts and customs together

The UPU’s Postal Technology Centre created the Customs Declaration System (CDS) that is in use by over 100 member countries of the UPU. The CDS system helps streamline the postal customs clearance process by enabling postal operators and customs administrators to exchange electronic advance data (EAD), perform data-driven risk analysis to support package selection and screening, and expedite the calculation of required duties and taxes.

On the customs front, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) developed ASYCUDA World, an automated customs management system currently used by 101 countries. The new data standard improves data quality and simplifies communications across the supply chain, thus facilitating trade growth, improving cargo security, modernising customs operations and fostering participation in global commerce through the submission of EAD for air cargo shipments. It also facilitates customs risk assessments for air cargo shipments and improves compliance with security regula­tions.

Link with the Trade Facilitation Agreement

The World Trade Organisation’s Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) outlines member countries’ obliga­tions in terms of reducing trade frictions and red tape, and helps to improve the access of micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) to global trade.

This year and 2021 will see huge changes in the regulatory landscape for the international exchange of low-value parcels and packets through the global postal network.

The implementation of many of those obligations, such as pre-arrival processing and advance ruling, can be facilitated by existing UPU regulations and solutions. The UPU actively supports and accelerates the implementation of the TFA by postal operators, customs and other trade agencies through its information technology solutions like the abovementioned CDS or the International Postal System (IPS) used by postal operators to dispatch and process international mail items.

Many of these obligations are related to collaborative activities between customs and postal operators such as the single window (TFA article 10.4), pre-arrival processing (TFA article 7.1), advance rulings (TFA article 3) and acceptance of copies (TFA article 10.2). Cooperation between customs and postal operators can help to reduce trade frictions.

Helping least developed countries comply

With the growth of ecommerce and the resulting “parcelisation of trade”, a tsunami of packages is being sent across borders, and postal and customs administrations need to develop new methods to facilitate trade, especially for MSMEs.

To do this, the UPU, in cooperation with UNCTAD, launched an effort this year in 22 least developed countries (LDCs) to facilitate the clearance of postal packages through the exchange of pre-arrival/pre-departure information between postal operators and customs administrations, enabling the use of data to enhance postal and customs operations for more efficient postal operations and more effective customs clearance.

The UPU, in cooperation with UNCTAD, launched an effort this year in 22 least developed countries (LDCs) to facilitate the clearance of postal packages through the exchange of pre-arrival/pre-departure information between postal operators and customs administrations.

The overall objective is to increase border efficiency and reduce red tape and friction in the cross-border shipment of postal items, often burdened by lengthy paper-driven processes and sluggish physical inspections performed without the support of data analysis risk engines. This builds on previous successful UNCTAD and UPU projects, now with the aim to rep­licate that success in LDCs by January 2021. The work will seek to reduce enduring traditional challenges such as illicit trade, illicit financial flows, intellectual property right infringement, counterfeiting, and piracy, to name a few.

The UPU and UNCTAD have identified the 22 LDCs in which the national interfaces between UPU’s CDS and UNCTAD’s ASYCUDA can be established quickly to address the urgent need for posts and customs to exchange EAD (see Table 1). The goal is to:

·       Enable an efficient customs clearance process and the timely delivery of postal items;

·       Improve visibility, timelines and quality of service for items in the postal network;

·       Ensure the effective and accurate collection of leviable duties and taxes, and the efficient implementa­tion of de minimis thresholds.

UNCTAD’s e-trade readiness assessments are supporting this work with information about where ASYCUDA is operational and what challenges and opportunities exist in each country’s ecommerce context, while the UPU’s operational readiness for ecommerce project identifies which LDCs need to install CDS and which ones only need to interface with ASYCUDA. Proof of concept pilots are planned for Vanuatu, and Cambodia was recently added to the list.

Table 1: LDCs that need CDS and/or ASYCUDA

The completion of this project will improve trade facilitation and inclusion to and from these countries, by enabling individuals and small businesses to exchange goods internationally through the global postal supply chain, while introducing efficient customs clearance processes and supporting the timely delivery of postal items.

A new special report by the UN regional commission suggests a basic basket of Information and Communications Technologies for all households, at an annual cost of less than 1% of GDP.

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) urged today for ensuring and universalizing connectivity and the affordability of digital technologies to address the many impacts of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in the region. To this end, it proposed five lines of action that include building an inclusive digital society, driving a productive transformation, fostering digital trust and security, strengthening regional digital cooperation, and moving towards a new governance model to ensure a “digital welfare state” that would promote equality, protect the population’s economic, social and labor rights, guarantee the secure use of data, and fuel progressive structural change.

ECLAC’s Executive Secretary, Alicia Bárcena, unveiled during a press conference the institution’s Special Report COVID-19 No. 7, entitled Universalizing access to digital technologies to address the consequences of COVID-19, which proposes to the region’s countries ensuring a basic basket of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) made up of a laptop, a smartphone, a tablet and a connection plan for households that are not connected, at an annual cost of less than 1% of GDP.

The report presented today highlights the importance that digital technologies have had for the functioning of the economy and society during the crisis prompted by the coronavirus disease pandemic. Progress that was expected to take years to materialize has been made in a matter of months. However, access gaps affect the right to health, education and work, and can also widen structural gaps and increase socioeconomic inequalities.

“The countries of Latin America and the Caribbean have taken measures to encourage the use of technological solutions and to ensure the continuity of telecommunications services. However, the scope of these actions is limited by gaps in access to and use of these technologies and by connection speeds,” Alicia Bárcena said upon presenting the report.

According to the document, in 2019, 66.7% of the region’s inhabitants had an Internet connection. The remaining third had limited or no access to digital technologies due to their economic and social status, particularly their age and location. In 12 countries of the region, the percentage of households in the highest income quintile (quintile V) that have an Internet connection is 81% on average, while the figures for households in the first and second quintiles are 38% and 53%, respectively.

The differences in connectivity between urban and rural areas are significant. In the region, 67% of urban households are connected to the Internet, while in rural areas only 23% are. In terms of age groups, young people and older adults have less connectivity: 42% of those under 25 years of age and 54% of people older than 66 are not connected to the Internet.

The report adds that the low degree of affordability reinforces the exclusion of lower-income households. The cost of mobile and fixed broadband services for the population in the first income quintile accounts for 14% and 12% of their income, respectively. This is around 6 times the reference threshold of 2% of income recommended by the United Nations Broadband Commission.

The study reveals that mobility data during the first months of lockdown show a world that was paralyzed physically, but not virtually. Website traffic and the use of applications for teleworking, online education or distance learning, and online shopping reveal a significant increase in the use of digital solutions. Between the first and second quarters of 2020, the use of teleworking solutions surged by 324% while distance education rose more than 60%.

However, the use of distance learning solutions is only possible for those with an Internet connection and devices that enable access, and in Latin America 46% of children between 5 and 12 years of age live in households that have no connectivity. Households’ access to digital devices is also unequal in the region: while between 70% and 80% of students from the highest socioeconomic levels have laptops in their homes, only between 10% and 20% of students in the lowest income quintiles have these devices.

“The difference between the highest and lowest economic strata affects the right to education and deepens socioeconomic inequalities. To ensure inclusive and equitable education and promote learning opportunities throughout the education cycle, not only must connectivity and digital infrastructure be improved, but also the digital skills of teachers and professors, and educational content must be adapted to the digital environment,” ECLAC’s Executive Secretary emphasized.

With regard to the percentage of jobs that can be shifted over to teleworking, the report notes that this is positively linked to the level of per capita GDP and to lower degrees of labor informality. In Europe and the United States, nearly 40% of workers can work from home, whereas in the case of Latin America, ECLAC estimates that around 21.3% of employed persons could engage in teleworking.

The document highlights that the Internet is mitigating the impact of the crisis on companies. It states that between March and April 2020, the number of business websites jumped by 800% in Colombia and Mexico and around 360% in Brazil and Chile. In June 2020, the online presence of retail companies surged by 431% compared with June 2019.

Finally, the report indicates that the post-pandemic period will be characterized by new demand patterns based on online channels that will require efforts by countries and the private sector to deliver better services. Meanwhile, new supply patterns will be based on flexibility, local proximity and response capacity.

“Productivity and structural change will remain central to development. The region must move towards more diversified, homogeneous and integrated productive systems that incorporate technology at all stages in order to increase productivity, competitiveness and productive inclusion, which will lead to higher employment levels and wages,” Alicia Bárcena concluded.


The macroeconomic context for developing country trade in the time of COVID-19

With the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic in a deeply interconnected global economy, the socio-economic and public health impacts of the crisis are becoming more apparent. These impacts are revealing the disproportionate effect of the crisis on the least developed countries (LDCs), with consensus being a likely economic downturn that will be more severe for LDCs.

Challenges such as disruptions to supply chains beleaguered LDCs pre-COVID, and, in response, governments across the world were creating policy environments favourable to stimulating competitiveness and value addition. The supply challenges for LDCs have now magnified, and efforts will need to continue to stimulate the economies that are most in danger.

Mitigating the harmful effects of the current pandemic and accelerating a post-crisis recovery may well depend on how well LDC governments can overcome transaction and confidence frictions in digital commerce. Lockdowns, social distancing measures and the need for virtual engagements mean such government actions are timely.

The challenge

Ongoing assessments of the COVID impact on trade across the LDCs show that the failure of market-oriented, productive-sector interventions to boost sales and product offerings is a major economic risk. Analysis conducted by the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) (assessing dedicated COVID-19 risk management action sheets across the LDCs), shows that this is a cross-cutting global risk that could broadly impact export earnings and the human development indicators in these countries.

Blockchain is well suited for targeted LDC interventions in trade finance, customs clearance, transportation and logistics, trade in goods and services as well as government procurement.

Addressing these issues with blockchain technology could help mitigate a number of risks of an operational nature such as the scarcity or inflation of resources, which could result in higher selling prices for essential goods and services. As a major tool to enhance efficiency and paperless trade, deploying blockchain in the current environment could not be timelier.

The opportunity

One can think of blockchain as a decentralised, distributed record or “ledger” of transactions. Every transaction is encrypted and stored permanently. Unlike traditional databases, which are administered by a central entity, blockchain relies on a peer-to-peer network that no single party can control. Blockchain promotes transparency through time-stamped transactions that cannot be easily altered, allowing easy traceability of products and transactions.

Blockchain is well suited for targeted LDC interventions in trade finance, customs clearance, transportation and logistics, trade in goods and services as well as government procurement.

Blockchain without digitalisation?

The research on the digital divide between LDCs and other countries is extensive. LDCs need further investment to help reach the same levels of digital competitiveness as other countries. And, blockchain depends on robust uptake of economic digitalisation and telecommunications access. In light of the more-ready availability of smartphones, there is a case to be made that blockchain technology could leapfrog the gains already made in telecommunications infrastructure. Failing to adequately make this transition risks leaving LDCs even further behind.
Apart from infrastructure concerns, important problems persist in the uptake of internet-based innovation. Many consumers have privacy concerns and are wary of information security in web-based transactions. The extant capabilities of blockchain can inform the implementation of paperless processes to ensure the greatest transparency and efficiency gains. The power and diversity of application of blockchain technology should be an additional push toward vigorous digitalization.

Increasing value addition

It is important to note that many governments have made huge progress with digitalisation. Senegal has facilitated the transition and delivery of essential supplies by fast-tracking ecommerce policies and reforms. The country’s Trade Ministry has created an ecommerce platform that provides easy access to websites of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that sell essential goods. The platform helps businesses reach consumers in major urban centres, thereby ensuring people can purchase what they need to ride out the crisis.

Senegal is a model for timely innovation that could be a model for others. The country followed up on the recommendations of its e-trade readiness assessment and the roadmap set out in its national ecommerce development strategy, which was supported by EIF and launched in December 2019. Currently, its nimbleness and openness to innovation means many of its ecommerce gains can be further improved with blockchain. Enhancing the security and efficiency of transactions through distributed ledger technology could lead to an even larger uptake by merchants and ‘e-wary’ purchasers.

<h3Trade in goods and services

For trade in goods and services, blockchain can further reduce transaction frictions. Distributed ledger technology promotes cybersecurity, greater transparency, real-time transactions, easy auditability of transactions and scalability.

In light of the more-ready availability of smartphones, there is a case to be made that blockchain technology could leapfrog the gains already made in telecommunications infrastructure. Failing to adequately make this transition risks leaving LDCs even further behind.

In Uganda’s burgeoning tourist industry, the sale of handicrafts, currently supported by an EIF project, is contracting because of travel restrictions and mandatory quarantines. With an eye towards post-COVID recovery, handicrafts producers should be encouraged to also have their offerings on dedicated or pre-existing ecommerce platforms. This shift could be further enhanced through the employment of distributed ledger technology. Considering that physical distancing measures might go on for a while, efficient and secure tracking mechanisms for purchases would provide artisans the necessary confidence to make this transition and keep their businesses going. Sceptical purchasers will equally be encouraged.

International trade generally involves paper-intensive and error-prone processes, which blockchain could help streamline. Blockchain offers customers safer and quicker solutions, which could help to increase customer numbers and boost ecommerce sales.

Trade facilitation

Inefficient border procedures are time consuming and costly, becoming a key area of trade policy focus. Cross-border trade is also heavily impacted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Existing inefficiencies have in many LDCs now been compounded by complete border closures.

Blockchain presents an opportunity to further enhance efforts at trade digitalisation. One example is automating paperless trade measures and border procedures that involve exchange of documents and data between actors. The highly secure, decentralised and distributed nature of blockchain enhances the exchange of information and opens new opportunities for more effective cooperation.

Vanuatu’s Electronic Single Window System (ESWS) could explore measures such as the use of smart contracts, which enforce export approval workflow among parties that must approve exports and capture documents and goods while sharing them in real time on a ledger visible to all authorised participants. A proof of concept developed by IBM to ship flowers from Mombasa, Kenya, to Royal Flora in the Netherlands illustrates the advantages that the technology can bring. A prior requirement of signatures from three different agencies and six documents was curtailed to a smart contract that enforces an export approval workflow among the three agencies that must approve the export. As each agency gives its consent, the status of export is updated in real time, and for all to see.

Reason for excitement

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected each country differently. However, a common element to most countries’ responses is emphasis on timely action and increased openness to innovation.

Kiribati’s transition to online processing of documents for incoming vessels and flights and Senegal’s progress in ecommerce are cases in point. They can make even greater efficiency, confidence and transaction gains with blockchain. The ease, security and transparency that blockchain provides helps promote consumer confidence in the eventual transition to ecommerce activity. In areas that are most critical right now for mitigating economic damage and accelerating recovery, blockchain technology in self-executing contracts can provide the stability, stimulus and predictability needed in economically uncertain times.


TC survey shows how COVID-19 is forcing enterprises run by young people in developing countries to think on their feet

The COVID-19 pandemic has left firms owned by young people in developing countries looking for new ways to survive and grow, a new survey by ITC reveals.

Answering the question ‘How has COVID-19 affected your business?’ survey respondents said they had seen a drop in sales − more than any other single consequence at 60% of responses.

The second most-cited effect was ‘temporary shutdowns’ for over 50% of respondents, while the and third-most cited effect was ‘employee absences’ (just under 50%).

‘Running a business during COVID is very challenging in general,’ Masresha Beniam, the founder of Ethiopian company OmniTech, which works in schools to increase technology awareness.

‘But the most challenging part was ensuring that staff were getting paid monthly, even when we were not able to work due to school closures,’ she said.

ITC’s Youth and Trade Programme quizzed small business owners aged 35 or younger to understand how they are responding to the economic and social shockwaves of the global coronavirus pandemic, which began in early 2020.

The three most-represented sectors in the sample were agriculture, informational technology and agri-processing. Retail and wholesale businesses, and travel and transport companies, were also represented.

Temporarily reducing employment for all or some employees was the most-cited coping strategy identified by the survey’s respondents. Pivoting to remote working, increasing communications and marketing activity and developing online sales channels were the next three strategies identified.

‘The strategy we adopted in response was going online,’ Ms. Beniam said. ‘We are now in the process of delivering our classes online.’

André Serge Mousseni, CEO and founder of Etablissement PSM, which produces and markets pepper from Ndikiniméki in Cameroon, said that transport restrictions and quarantine measures made it hard to get the fertilizer he needed for his crops. Other COVID-19 measures also hit Mr. Mousseni’s business.

‘Social distancing requirements and absenteeism are increasing costs and reducing production capacity,’ he said. ‘Our workers are assigned tasks in smaller groups, and some shift work has been introduced.’

Mr. Mousseni said that these restrictions were imposed even as demand for his pepper was rising.

Young business owners in the survey said that the most helpful support they have received during the pandemic was access to finance (26%), access to training (20%), market information (18%) and information about government support programmes (12%).

Answering to the question ‘Which organizations have been of most help during the current situation?’, nearly 40% of respondents answered ‘none’ − more than any other answer. Just under 30% said that business incubators/accelerators had been of most help.

Around two-thirds of respondents did not envisage closing their businesses as a result of pandemic effects. Nevertheless, the remaining third of business owners in the survey said there remained a risk that their business would close in the short term due to the crisis.

The survey was conducted from April to June 2020 with 353 business owners, 30% of whom were women, and with most business owners employing between one and 19 people.

Source : ITC News


Addis Ababa, 24 August 2020 (ECA) – The Economic Commission for Africa, jointly with International Economics Consulting Ltd, released the report of the second comprehensive survey on the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impact across Africa. The online survey was conducted from 16 June to 20 July to provide insights into the effects of the pandemic on economic activity for businesses across Africa, identifying the challenges they face as well as their responses.

The results of the survey show that the top three challenges faced by companies are: a) reduced opportunities to meet new customers; b) drop in demand, and; c) lack of cash flow. Companies have faced serious disruptions in both supply and market due to COVID-19, with unfair pricing seen as a major concern. Feedback from companies about government assistance is mixed with nearly two-thirds of the respondents indicating from moderate to no satisfaction. As a consequence, 50% of the respondents approached financial institutions from which 25% got positive responses; among the latter, 42% were not satisfied with the service due to high interest rates, delays and/or collateral requirements.

When it comes to their performance, companies are currently working at about half their capacity. Company revenues are expected to drop by about 18% in 2020 (as compared to 2019) and lay-offs to increase by 20% in the next three months. Still, the situation could have been worse if a significant share of employees (27%) had not been able to work remotely. It is worth noting that remote working options proved more challenging for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), particularly those dealing with goods, whose performance has been relatively more negatively affected than larger-sized companies and more generally those involved in services. Moreover, women are more at risk of being laid-off than men, which is consistent with the fact that, from interviewed companies, women tend to be employed more in MSMEs in which their primary business is related to goods.

One of the main takeaways from this survey is the very positive fact that two-thirds of the surveyed companies indicated that they have identified new opportunities in response to the crisis. Mr. Simon Mevel, Economics Affairs Officer at the Regional Integration and Trade Division in ECA said: Very interesting to note that firms involved in goods and MSMEs are displaying the highest shares in terms of new opportunities identified following the crisis, which in turn is expected to be positive from a gender point of view as women are primarily engaged in MSMEs dealing with goods”.

Those opportunities attest to a clear shift towards new technologies, particularly the development of online platforms for e-commerce. While the current share of e-commerce revenues remains relatively small (16%) – essentially due to challenges around internet connectivity, payment gateways and logistics/transport/deliveries – nearly half (47%) of the companies are moving or planning to move towards innovative/digital solutions through collaborations and partnerships.


Collaboration at the regional level is a critical force for scaling up effective technologies and increasing innovation capacity in the fight against COVID-19, according to high-level officials and key stakeholders at the third session of the Committee on Information and Communications Technology (ICT), Science, Technology and Innovation.

Convened by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), the two-day Committee meeting highlighted how digital inclusion and resilient digital networks across the entire region have become the foundation for government measures to effectively stem the worst impacts of the pandemic.

“Digital has taken on a compelling new meaning in the region – people, planet and prosperity are all increasingly dependent on access to digitally-driven technological innovations and seamless connectivity,” said United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP Ms. Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana.

She added, “As we are planning to chart our future in the post-COVID-19 world, we need to address the digital and technology divide with urgency. We cannot let this divide drive new forms of socio-economic inequalities.”

More than half of the region’s 4.1 billion people remain offline and in least developed, landlocked developing and Pacific island countries, less than 5 per cent of the population has access to high-speed and affordable Internet. Women and girls, regardless of location, level of income or age, have lower access than men.

“We need to accelerate the digital transformation that has happened before the COVID-19 pandemic. We need to make sure that quality telecommunications infrastructure is made available,” said H.E. Mr. Bambang Brodjonegoro, Minister for Research and Technology and Chairman of the National Agency for Research and Innovation, Indonesia.

To leave no one behind, the Committee discussed a set of guidelines for inclusive technology and innovation policies for sustainable development, and committed to developing policies that promote inclusive technology and innovation to ensure that innovations are accessible, relevant and affordable for all.

“It is our choice to look at global challenges such as the Coronavirus pandemic as an international science and technology competition or as an opportunity for a generous collaboration to build a better world,” said H.E. Mr. Sorena Sattari, Vice President for Science and Technology, Islamic Republic of Iran.

The Committee also underscored the importance of harnessing the entrepreneurial spirit of the private sector to focus on developing innovations to address social and environmental challenges as well as provide economic opportunities. Social innovators and entrepreneurs have stepped up in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. From providing educational technology and e-health services for the most vulnerable to developing community tracing initiatives, the work of social innovators and entrepreneurs is more critical than ever.

In this regard, the Committee  recognized the critical role that innovative business models – such as social enterprise, inclusive business and impact investing – play in accelerating progress on the Sustainable Development Goals, and recommended that the United Nations support member States to grow this new and emerging sector.

A regional launch of the 2020 United Nations E-Government Survey published by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) was held on the sidelines of the Committee. The Survey finds that among the world’s least developed countries, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Cambodia have become leaders in digital government development, advancing from the middle to the high E-Government Development Index group in 2020. At the launch, ESCAP further highlighted the challenges and opportunities of digital government in the Asia-Pacific region and emphasized the use of ICT during all phases of disaster risk management.

“This e-government development ranking allows us to see the readiness and capabilities of the country in the use of ICT to provide citizens with public services,” said H.E. Mr. Ablaykhan Ospanov, Vice Minister of Digital Development, Innovations and Aerospace Industry, Kazakhstan. He further called on countries to actively cooperate on the development of a new Action Plan for implementation of the Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway 2022-2026, which will help ensure that digital government services reach all.

In conjunction with the Committee, a high-level dialogue session also gathered eminent personalities such as Special Adviser to the Secretary-General of the United Nations Mr. Fabrizio Hochschild, Maldives Minister of Communication, Science and Technology H.E. Mr. Mohamed Maleeh Jamal, Astronaut and Senior Advisor to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency Dr. Mukai Chiaki, Google Asia-Pacific Vice President for Government Policy Ambassador (ret.) Ted Osius and Alibaba Senior Director Mr. Sami Farhad to share their insights on how the region can accelerate digital connectivity and leverage innovation as part of its post-pandemic recovery efforts. The session kicked off a six-part Regional Conversation Series on Building Back Better in commemoration of the United Nations’ 75th anniversary this year.


The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented changes to the way we lead our lives and our reliance on ICT connectivity has grown even faster than before. However, the region is also one of the most digitally divided, with less than 14 percent of the population connected to affordable and reliable high-speed Internet.

As shown in the figure below, while fixed-broadband is accessible to most of the population in two of the three income groups, fixed-broadband subscriptions remain unaffordable for more than half of the population for the Asia-Pacific Least Developed Countries, Small island Developing States and Landlocked Developing countries, identified in the “low and lower-middle income” income group. A total of 44 per cent of households in developing countries of the region have Internet access at home, which means that those who relied on the Internet from work or school have lost their access during the lockdowns.



With live shows on pause due to the pandemic, creative industries in Kenya are tapping into new revenue streams on digital platforms and outlets to build resilience.

Award-winning Kenyan musician Tetu Shani has been trying to find new grooves in the time of COVID-19.

Mr. Shani who is known for his upbeat blend of indie rock, Afro-pop and folkloric rhythms, was hit hard when the coronavirus pandemic decimated his live performance income stream.

The COVID-19 crisis also had an impact on his creativity, his agent said.

“It’s very hard to be creative when experiencing such pressures on income. Frustration affects production and Tetu started to create music for himself rather than for an audience,” said Silalei Shani.

In April the rising star released a music video of his latest lockdown tune, “Always Feelin’ This Groove”.

Since then, he, like many other artists, musicians, actors, and performers have had to find new ways to supplement their income. But how?

Tetu Shani

[Tetu Shani performing live before the COVID-19 outbreak]

The Kenyan government released a $1 million stimulus package dedicated to local artists, including musicians. But this is not enough, some say, wanting the government to have a longer-term plan in place.

A recent survey conducted by the HEVA Fund, Africa’s first dedicated finance, business support and knowledge facility for creative industries, underscored the financial impact of COVID-19 on creative businesses in Kenya.

In the survey, 58% of the respondents estimated their income losses to be “severe” and an additional 26% “moderate to severe”.

This is a blow to Kenya’s emerging creative industries, which, according to the latest available data from 2013, exports creative goods to the value of at $40.9 million and imports $195 million worth of creative goods, the latest UNCTAD Creative Economy Outlook outlines.

As the COVID-19 crisis deepens, the artists are flocking to both well-known and emerging platforms to eke out a living. And while digital solutions cannot replace the value and beauty of a live show, they are helping the artists survive.

This trend is giving fresh impetus to e-commerce channels and platforms for creatives. It has led the government to request UNCTAD to help address key e-commerce gaps limiting the uptake of digital solutions.

“COVID19 has seen many creatives turn to digital platforms and technologies to connect with audiences and consumers. They are also looking for ways to monetise the technology,” said UNCTAD’s creative economy programme head, Marisa Henderson.

“Given the important role of the digital creative services for creative industries, it’s crucial that countries ready themselves for the ‘new normal’ and adopt digital strategies in line with their development needs.”

An e-commerce policy solution

Kenya was among the top five African performers in the UNCTAD B2C e-commerce index 2019. The country’s 2019 Digital Economy Blueprint outlines the government’s commitment to using disruptive technology to help it leapfrog.

To turn the blueprint into action, the Communications Authority of Kenya requested UNCTAD to help it formulate a national e-commerce strategy. This will include an action plan with recommendations for targeted policy interventions.

“More needs to be done to allow home-grown digital platforms in Africa to stay profitable and for the digital economy to become inclusive and sustainable. Kenya has made significant progress in building a digital ecosystem,” said Shamika N. Sirimanne, UNCTAD’s technology and logistics director.

“The COVID-19 crisis has encouraged the creative industry to make full use of the potential offered by digital platforms to market and sell creative content online via e-commerce,” she added.

But the uptake of digital platforms has unveiled underlying challenges in the creative industry sector in Kenya, according to businesses surveyed by UNCTAD.

These include the collection of fees and royalties for artists, various copyright and intellectual property challenges, privacy and personal data protection rules, illegal downloads, piracy, and counterfeiting. Added to this is the limited scalability of locally developed digital products.

Artists’ lives deeply affected by the pandemic

Atemi Oyungu, a popular Kenyan singer and songwriter well known for her afro-soul productions, was stranded in the United States as global lockdowns came into force and prevented her return to Kenya.

“I’ve been living on my own resources and have not been able to generate an income without a keyboard,” she said.

Ms. Oyungu added: “I’ve also been missing collaboration with fellow musicians who’ve returned to their villages where internet connectivity is weak. We also face other constraints, like the time difference, so I haven’t been able to create and perform.”

She also highlighted the toll of COVID-19 on creativity. “It’s a tough period for live musicians who cannot benefit from real shows and interactions with fans to get inspired.”

Digital platforms useful for survival, but scale is key

For both Ms. Oyungu and Mr. Shani, a revamped presence on social media has been critical for keeping them afloat.

Mr. Shani embraced digital platforms to turn what would have been live performance income into digital income. He has been using livestreaming platform DundaLive.

DundaLive allows e-payments for streamed content and a tip line, using the popular M-Pesa mobile money solution and PayPal for followers outside Kenya.

Livestreaming has a merit, but it is not without challenges. “It’s difficult to get attention because of the oversaturation in the market, marked by a significant rise in live performers moving online,” Mr. Shani said. “Electricity and internet connectivity issues can also frustrate the streaming experience.”

Other platforms have also been helping Kenyan musicians.

Revenue streams generated by music aggregators, such as YouTube or Spotify, and in particular the Kenyan platform Mdundo, have helped mitigate pandemic-related losses, through the download of artists’ music tunes and ringtones for mobile phones.

Mdundo, which is expanding its presence in 15 African countries, featuring more than 60,000 African artists, reaches more than 5 million active users, 22% of whom are from Kenya.

“Music downloads have been rising steadily with a 26% uptick in 2020’s second quarter on the first quarter’s 33 million downloads,” said Wanjiku Koinange, Mdundo’s chief operating officer, who added that COVID-19 was also changing the way creative content is being produced.

Artists relying on digital platforms for income during the crisis have become more productive, she said. But profitability for both African producers and the platforms requires time and scale.

UNCTAD’s 2019 Digital Economy Report found that in many developing countries, digital entrepreneurs face various barriers to scaling their activities, especially as global digital platforms dominate most product categories.

“A national e-commerce strategy will help identify solutions that can help the Kenyan creative industries and those beyond, using e-commerce as a new tool for income generation,” Ms. Sirimanne said.



Addis Ababa, 18 August 2020 (ECA) – The Africa Trade Policy Centre (ATPC) of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) in collaboration with the UK-based Overseas Development Institute (ODI) released a working paper entitled “Africa trade and Covid‑19: The supply chain dimension”. The paper investigates the impacts of the pandemic on trade and value chains in Africa, with a special focus on Ethiopia and Kenya, and the pharmaceutical sector. It also makes specific policy recommendations on how the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) can be reconfigured to reflect the new realities and risks of the 21st century.

Mr. David Luke, Coordinator of ATPC, commenting on the report, noted that the nowcast for Africa is clear, but the forecast for growth and trade this year remains uncertain. COVID-19 has magnified Africa’s cross-border trade challenges, and endemic reliance on imports of essential food and medical products. Implementation of the AfCFTA must be fast tracked to help African countries bounce back from the pandemic and facilitate the emergence of robust and resilient African supply chains.

Covid-19 has created significant disruptions to global value chains, through lockdown induced contractions in demand and supply, increased transport and transactions costs in foreign trade and growing use of export bans. Africa has been particularly exposed. About 82 percent and 96 percent of Africa’s imports of food items, and medicinal and pharmaceutical products, respectively, originate from outside the continent.  Also problematic has been the shift in the Covid-19 epicentre from China, which accounts for 11 per cent of African exports and 16 percent of imports, to Europe, which accounts for 33 percent of African exports and 32 percent of imports.

The leading argument is that the pandemic has strengthened the case for developing intra-African regional value chains and unlocking the continent’s business potential. Food shortages, price hikes and breakdowns in pharmaceutical supply chains are widespread and growing. In Kenya, the tea and cut flower value chains have been severely hit. Restrictions applied to passenger flights across the world have reduced the availability of transport for products such as cut flowers and fresh agricultural products. Ethiopia’s coffee and cut flower supply chains are also being adversely impacted, and the slowdown in international travel has served a significant blow to the travel and transportation services provided by Africa’s most successful air carrier, Ethiopian airlines.

Swift implementation of the AfCFTA Agreement will be crucial to fast track the development of “Made in Africa” brands embedded in competitive and robust regional value chains. The delay to start of trading offers a window of opportunity for creative thinking on how the AfCFTA can be reconfigured to reflect new realities and risks. This is needed to better position the African economy in the face of future adverse shocks emanating from novel viruses and climate change, among others. The pandemic highlights that a robust supplier management system that takes into account sub-tier dependencies and proximity is a prerequisite for today’s supply chain, and in turn the need to utilize the AfCFTA as a springboard for developing Africa’s industrial base.

The paper presents a set of priority actions needed for the AfCFTA to build competitive and resilient African value chains and economies in the post Covid-19 era. These include measures to tweak and finalize phase I issues, fast track and align phase II issues to public health priorities, and frontload phase III negotiations on e-commerce to boost digital connectivity. The overarching recommendation is for African policymakers to revisit the AfCFTA built-in agenda to introduce a new ambitious work program of simultaneous negotiations on phase 2 and 3 issues, as well as prioritization of the liberalization of health and education in services in 2021-22.

Perhaps more than any other industry, the pandemic has shone a spotlight on the heavy import-dependency and vulnerability of Africa’s pharmaceutical sector. Enhanced integration on the continent provides a huge opportunity for the pharmaceutical industry. Yet it will not provide a panacea to Africa’s over-reliance on pharmaceuticals without a targeted framework that integrates an awareness of the multiple ways in which trade can impact on health systems. In order to achieve this, the paper argues that the pharmaceutical sector should be elevated as the heart of the AfCFTA Agreement and prioritized in the initial stages of implementation.


The WTO Secretariat has published a new information note warning of possible increases to trade costs due to COVID-19 disruptions. The note examines the pandemic’s impact on key components of trade costs, particularly those relating to travel and transport, trade policy, uncertainty, and identifies areas where higher costs may persist even after the pandemic is contained.


The note estimates that travel and transport costs account for as much as a third of trade costs depending on the sector. Pandemic-related travel restrictions are therefore likely to affect trade costs for as long as they remain in place. For example, global air cargo capacity shrank by 24.6 per cent in March 2020, as passenger flights account for around half of air cargo volumes. The resulting increase in air freight prices is likely to subside only with a rebound in passenger transport, according to the report. While sea and land transport have not faced comparable shocks, maritime transport has seen a decrease in numbers of sailings, while international land transport has been affected by border closures, sanitary measures and detours. Moreover, business travel, which is important for maintaining trading relationships and managing global value chains, in addition to being a significant economic activity in its own right, is being disrupted. The quality of information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure and digital preparedness will be important in determining how well economies can cope.

Trade policy barriers and regulatory differences are estimated to account for at least 10 per cent of trade costs in all sectors. They include tariff and non-tariff measures, temporary trade barriers, regulatory differences and the costs of crossing borders, as well as other policies that impact trade, such as a lack of investment facilitation or of intellectual property protection. The report notes that while COVID-19 has motivated both trade-restricting and import-facilitating changes in tariffs and regulatory practices, these measures have so far affected only a small subset of products. A crisis-induced shift towards the digitalization of customs and regulatory procedures to reduce physical contact could potentially lower the associated trade costs in the long-term.

The report also points to uncertainty as a factor that magnifies the impact of existing trade-related costs, weighing on trade finance flows and dampening the appetite of businesses to invest in researching new markets, acquiring language skills and prospective partners, and conforming with foreign standards. It  notes that in the first quarter of 2020, a widely used measure for the global level of uncertainty registered levels 60 per cent higher than those triggered by the Iraq War and the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003. In mid-March, a separate index of financial market volatility came close to highs last seen in 2008 after the failure of Lehman Brothers.

Looking ahead, the report notes that many governments have implemented measures to mitigate pandemic-related disruptions to economic activity, for instance by exempting certain transport crew from travel restrictions, or by enhancing the quality of and the access to ICT. While many of the changes in trade costs can be expected to revert once the pandemic is brought under control, the report observes that some effects may persist. For example, aviation industry consolidation and shifts in passenger appetite for air travel could lead to higher air transport costs. In addition, government policy choices – which could either reduce or increase trade policy uncertainty – will be important in shaping uncertainty-related trade costs in the future.

The report can be found here.

Key points:

  • Travel restrictions and border closures have been an important part of the initial policy response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and these measures have directly affected trade in goods and services. They have disrupted freight transport, business travel and the supply of services that rely on the presence of individuals abroad. Transport and travel costs constitute an important part of trade costs, and, depending on the sector, are estimated to account for 15 to 31 per cent. Travel restrictions are therefore likely to account for a substantial increase in trade costs for as long as they remain in place.
  • Freight transport service performance is crucial to trade costs in manufacturing. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, maritime and land transport have remained largely functional, although they have registered sometimes considerable delays, but air freight transport has been severely disrupted, with global air cargo capacity shrinking by 24.6 per cent in March 2020. Many governments are trying to do as much as possible to keep trade flowing, but in some regions, travel restrictions have the potential to disrupt regional trade and livelihoods severely.
  • Tradable services that rely on physical proximity between suppliers and consumers, such as tourism, passenger transport or maintenance and repair services, have been severely impacted by travel restrictions and social distancing and have seen a prohibitive increase in trade costs. The disruption in business travel, which plays important roles in establishing and maintaining trading relationships as well as in managing global value chains, is also likely to affect both business and professional services and manufacturing production, although this will depend on how possible it is to substitute e-interactions for face-to-face communication. The quality of information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure and digital preparedness will thus be important factors in how well economies cope with the pandemic shock.
  • Estimates suggest that trade policy barriers and regulatory differences account for at least 10 per cent of trade costs in all sectors. Products essential in the fight against the pandemic have seen the introduction of mostly temporary import-facilitating and export-restrictive measures. The former push down trade costs while the latter raise them. Nevertheless, both types of measures have covered a small share of global trade.
  • High levels of uncertainty magnify the impact of trade costs on international trade. In the first quarter of 2020, for instance, a widely used measure for the global level of uncertainty was 60 per cent higher than the levels triggered by the Iraq War and the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003. Uncertainty reduces the appetite of firms to invest into new trading relationships, and the increase in uncertainty may also result in trade finance contraction that is likely to take a particularly heavy toll on emerging and developing economies.

As we look back at 20 years of telecommunication/information and communication technology regulation at this year’s milestone Global Symposium for Regulators (GSR-20), there is no better time to understand how the responses and initiatives from the ICT sector during the COVID-19 pandemic can help ITU Members – and the world – to build back better.

Two decades have seen GSR become the pre-eminent global meeting for regulators and policymakers to tackle the many challenges emerging from the convergence of ICT services. From digital taxation frameworks to consumer trust, infrastructure sharing to network investment, the symposium also serves as a choice venue for regulators to interact and collaborate with the private sector to solve these and other critical challenges.

This year, as its own response to COVID-19 restrictions, GSR is going digital and will be held as a virtual meeting from 1-3 September 2020. As the world moves from response to recovery in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, look for the upcoming points to be covered in GSR’s online sessions as they reflect what ITU members and the wider ICT community will need to bear in mind as the so-called ‘new normal’ takes shape.

5 key approaches to the ‘new normal’

First, how might institutional frameworks be made fit for purpose in a post-COVID world? Key issues to be addressed are privacy and data protection – especially concerning health information. Does the advent of contact tracing and tracking apps require even closer collaboration between data protection agencies and telecoms? What is the role of telecoms in tackling the global issue of COVID-19-related misinformation and disinformation? What is clear is that new and existing institutional frameworks must be designed to support data privacy and help combat misinformation.

It is also important to understand the sector competition impacts of the post-pandemic era – particularly in terms of data sovereignty, and data ownership. Changes in market power between industry segments also come into play here. For example, operators may face long-term reduced demand or higher costs as the world recovers from the pandemic. At the same time, initial indications suggest that so-called “tech giants” may become significantly stronger under a range of potential future scenarios. Such a situation could arise not only because of the sizeable market power of these companies, but also because of their critical role as the gatekeepers for smartphone operating systems, which must be opened for contact tracing apps, tackling COVID-related disinformation, and more. This shifting balance of market power between these two segments of the communications and technology industries may, in turn, require new regulatory settings.

The pandemic has caused remote working to shift from exception to norm in many workplaces around the world. But working from home comes with increased cybersecurity risks such as malware infection, unauthorised access, data security, and insecure devices. Hackers and online scammers are taking advantage of these risks, with cybercrime accelerating as COVID-19 continues to spread. One report by the security firm Mimecast revealed that during the first 100 days of the crisis, spam and opportunistic detections increased by 26.3 per cent globally, impersonation was up 30.3 per cent, malware by 35.16 per cent and the blocking of URL clicks by 55.8 per cent. In response to these increased cybersecurity threats, governments have taken to steps to address gaps in digital trust and security. For example, the Welsh Government announced a GBP 248,000 cyber grant scheme for local authorities to help strengthen their IT systems. The Australian Cyber Security Centre released guidelines that outline key cyber security practices for people who are working from home.

In many countries, spectrum availability and capacity were expanded as temporary emergency measures during the pandemic to accommodate surges in traffic and to ensure continued service delivery. Such responses typically involve allowing the use of either vacant spectrum or unused spectrum of existing licenses. As GSR-20 approaches, the time has come to carefully examine how such temporary measures will be bridged with the new “normal”, while providing greater network access and maintaining improved quality of service for all.

Last but not least, inclusion, accessibility, and digital divide issues will be heightened in a post-COVID scenario due to the fact that the negative impacts of the pandemic will fall more heavily on vulnerable populations. On social equity grounds in the new COVID normal world, there are pressing reasons to accelerate connectivity and digital skills for an estimated 3.6 billion people who remain totally offline. In addition to a more urgent need for universal service strategies and policies to combat new forms of digital divide. That means the need for improved affordability of ubiquitous broadband for all citizens and residents will only grow in the post-pandemic scenario.

Terrestrial network deployments innovative and future technologies such as non-GEO satellites and HAPS should be facilitated in order to connect the unconnected. As ITU Secretary-General and Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development Co-Vice Chair Houlin Zhao recently stated, “As the COVID-19 pandemic accelerates, making in-roads in the developing world and threatening all of humanity, we need to take immediate action to ensure no one is left behind. This unprecedented crisis shows that nobody is safe until we are all safe. And it shows, with no ambiguity, that we will not unleash the full potential of broadband until we are all connected.”

Building on GSR learnings to shape the ‘new normal’

Despite the considerable uncertainty involved in looking further out, ITU Members are encouraged to “look back to the future” and bear in mind the collective learnings facilitated by REG4COVID and complied in the discussion paper during the upcoming GSR deliberations.

We look forward to collectively tackling challenges in the new post-COVID-19 context, from encouraging investment, to fostering innovation, from facilitating sector competition to pursuing social equity and inclusion in transformed economic and societal environments everywhere.

Learn more about REG4COVID

Attend the main sessions of GSR-2020, this year to be held as a global virtual meeting from 1-3 September.

Download the GSR Discussion Paper Pandemic in the Internet Age.


“During the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014, more people died from the interruption of social services and economic break-down than from the virus itself’” according to a United Nations’ report regarding the socio-economic response to COVID-19, reflecting on the Ebola Virus outbreak of 2014.

Today, it seems that history is repeating itself.

In March 2020, most African governments implemented various measures to contain the spread of the virus. From shutting down land borders to closing airports, businesses and markets. These containment measures have dire economic consequences impacting all businesses; in particular for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) that often operate in the informal economy and lack social protection. According to a recent survey carried out by UNCDF in West Africa among service providers of financial and non-financial services, the harshest consequences of the crisis will be experienced by MSMEs.

UNCDF conducted this survey among its current project partners and applicants in response to a request for application (RFA) launched in April 2020 for innovative digital solutions to support the resilience of MSMEs during the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond. The objective of the research was to grasp the impact of COVID-19 on the private sector in West Africa , and to guide the work to be carried out among the RFA applicants. Respondents from 39 organizations included financial institutions, microfinance institutions, fintechs and startups offering digital solutions in the region.

The survey results shed some light on the specific barriers and challenges the private sector faces while highlighting the various initiatives these service providers have launched for their clients to adapt to the new normal.

Findings from the survey

72% of the respondents reported a decrease in their revenues in the month of April, compared to their original forecast. Among the service providers working in the financial services and agriculture sectors, this percentage is even higher, with 76% reporting a decrease in revenues. Assuming the situation persists, more than half of the service providers interviewed fear they could be in a critical situation in less than 6 months.

The two major challenges faced by these businesses are decrease in demand (for 38% of the respondents) and cashflow difficulties to meet operational costs (for 28% of the respondents). In the agriculture sector, half of the respondents face harsh cashflow difficulties. The new situation has also modified staffing modalities, resulting in challenges for around 40% of the respondents, from staff not being able to work full time to staff not being allowed to work in the field and interact with clients.

While these challenges will most probably remain until the COVID-19 pandemic is over, the longer the virus lasts, the more risks businesses will face. Companies predict that continued insufficient demand will be very problematic and anticipate that sustained difficulties of cashflow could eventually lead to bankruptcy. Likewise, the risks of layoffs, delays in reimbursements and reduced access to capital could arise. All of these risks threaten the existence of services providers that are active in rural areas and/or servicing MSMEs in agriculture and commerce.

To palliate for the decrease in demand and revenues, businesses have launched a variety of new initiatives. To provide smooth access to their services, most businesses are working on developing new marketing strategies, which indicate a strong desire to make a digital shift. Similarly, building new partnerships allow retails businesses to increase sales through e-commerce platforms while helping overcome the difficulties that small producers face in selling their stocks. Online sales and cashless payments combined with home deliveries are developing across the region and could support the continuity of business for MSMEs.

Supporting businesses and the resilience of MSMEs

In these times of uncertainty regarding the duration and extent of confinement measures around the world, UNCDF launched in April 2020, a request for applications (RFA) for innovative digital solutions to support the resilience of MSMEs. Initially, the RFA was planned for Benin, Ghana and Senegal. However, Togo was also included in the initiative thanks to a partnership between UNCDF and the UNDP Togo Accelerator Lab.

The objective of the RFA was to collaborate with the private sector in West Africa and to leverage the power of digital technologies for MSMEs. The solutions submitted for the RFA had to target the following objectives:

  • streamline MSMEs existing distribution channels,
  • optimize MSMEs stock management,
  • build online and home delivery distribution channels,
  • integrate digital payments, and
  • leverage other digital solutions and apps for better efficiency and revenue generation.

What next

Within a week of posting the RFA, the responses to the initiative were encouraging. Indeed, over 100 participants joined UNCDF and UNDP webinars to ask questions related to this RFA and, across the four countries, 87 companies submitted their applications. Since then, seven solutions were selected in the first round of investments, ranging from digital payments, e-commerce and digital tools for MSMEs to agribusiness market platforms and customized MSME insurance solutions. With the seven winners, UNCDF expects to contribute to the resilience of 8,160 MSMEs, while servicing 245,000 customers.

Through the RFA, UNCDF received an aggregated funding request of US$2.4 million. So far, US$400,000 has been funded, leaving a funding gap of US$2 million to support an investable pipeline of 42 innovative digital solutions for MSMEs. Private sector actors have already developed digital solutions and identified the missing funding requirements in order for them to speed up their digital shift towards servicing MSMEs.

UNCDF is committed to continue fundraising to support private sector driven innovations and contribute to the resilience of MSMEs during this pandemic and beyond.

For more findings on the survey and the RFA go to our Infogram here.


While supply-chain disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic have left global postal volumes reeling, China’s postal business has grown in the first five months of 2020.

China’s State Post Bureau reported an 8.9 percent year-on-year increase in postal revenues between January and May 2020, despite the impact of the COVID-19 and measures taken to halt its spread.

The State Post Bureau reported that revenues from China’s postal business had reached 404.13 billion yuan (57.2 billion USD). Express delivery services saw a 9.9 percent increase in revenues and an 18.4 percent increase in volumes during the January to May period, compared to last year.

Growth is also accelerating. Revenues grew 18.5 percent year-on-year in April. In May, revenues were up nearly 22 percent on the same period last year, totalling 95.11 billion yuan (13.5 billion USD).

Express volumes surged 41 percent in May compared to the previous year, with 7.38 billion items sent that month alone.

Growth factors

The State Post Bureau credited e-commerce for the rapid growth, as more consumers have switched from brick and mortar retail to online channels to reduce their exposure. As a result, more middle-aged, elderly and rural consumers are beginning to use e-commerce for the first time. On the other hand, more businesses are selling goods online for the first time to offset the decline in in-store visits.

An e-commerce shopping festival held in late April and early May drove online sales and therefore delivery needs. In addition to this, China Post branches have begun connect those unable to attend markets with fresh produce via online platforms. The initiative, which was popular with citizens and included livestreams to market the products, helped farmers continue operating and ensured that produce prices remained stable. The Jinhua Post Branch reported that it received nearly 2,000 orders within the first three days of the programme alone.

According to the State Post Bureau, operators have coped with the increasing demand for services by investing in capacity improvement measures such as hiring additional staff, implementing safety measures, purchasing additional vehicles and opening new operations sites.

They have also improved collaboration with e-commerce platforms to better predict shipment volume peaks and spread the load across the network. Adopting new technology such as big data, intelligent computing and automation has also helped operators handle the surge in volumes.

This article first appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of UPU’s Union Postale magazine. Subscribe now to be the first to receive content like this.


The global economy will likely contract by over 5 percent in 2020 due to the impact of COVID-19, according to the recently released Global Economic Prospects. The deepest global recession in eight decades is sending hundreds of millions into poverty, and recovery appears to be far off. Still, the crisis has encouraged incentives for economic transformation and adoption of digital business models, including increased use of digital financial services (DFS).

Digital financial inclusion was a development priority before the COVID-19 emergency; now, it is indispensable for both short-term relief and as a central element of broad-based, sustainable recovery efforts. There are challenges to accelerating digital finance, but also, increasingly, an understanding of how to overcome these obstacles and reduce risks.

This year, the Global Partnership for Financial Inclusion (GPFI) developed High-Level Policy Guidelines (HLPGs) on Digital Financial Inclusion for Youth, Women and SMEs, which were recently endorsed at the meeting of G20 Finance Ministers. The World Bank Group produced background reports that informed these guidelines—for women’s financial inclusion with the Better Than Cash Alliance and Women’s World Banking, and innovations in small- and medium-enterprise (SME) finance with the SME Finance Forum—leveraging insights from country advice and operations as well as from extensive empirical research. Two issues raised in these documents are: the importance of access to digital technology and infrastructure, and the opportunity to accelerate digital financial inclusion through large volume payments. Both are highly relevant today as the world copes with COVID-19.

Gender gap in account ownership
Source: Global Findex database

Access to digital technology and infrastructure for DFS

Access to technology is the foundation of digital development and DFS. This starts with access to key digital tools such as mobile phones for consumers and digitalization of business processes for SMEs. 

Women in low- and middle-income countries are much less likely than men to use financial services (9 percentage points) or own mobile phones (8 percentage points). Experience in the Africa region suggests that mobile money services, such as M-Pesa in Kenya or MTN Mobile Money in West Africa, can close the gender gap in financial inclusion more rapidly than traditional banking products. In the Middle East and North Africa, an estimated 65 million women who don’t have bank accounts have mobile phones—a ready-made opportunity for deployment of DFS. Proactive government policies to support women’s ownership of mobile phones can help close both the technology and financial inclusion gap.   

Other elements of digital infrastructure and policy essential for achieving financial inclusion involve digital identification and electronic Know Your Customer (eKYC) technologies. The COVID-19 health emergency has spurred more countries to building this infrastructure, deploying online tools to create digital IDs to speed access to health care and relief services. Low-income countries, especially, are simplifying eKYC regulations.

Digitalization of small businesses strengthens productivity and improves their access to finance and markets.  A study conducted by International Data Corporation (IDC) covering more than 3,200 SME CEOs from 11 different countries found that 49 percent of the CEOs believe that technology levels the playing field for small businesses versus larger corporations. From a macroeconomic perspective, the digitalization of SMEs can also enhance a country’s economic activity. It is estimated that the digitalization of SMEs in the countries comprising the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) could add $1.1 trillion of GDP value across the region by 2025.

Digital payments

For SMEs, one of the most valuable consequences of digitalization is improved access to information—both within the firm, to increase efficiency and profit maximization, and to create data for external partners including financial institutions. Digitizing payments generates massive amounts of detailed transactional data which can be used as a basis to estimate income, evaluate risk, and extend financial services.  In Kenya, for instance, Kopo Kopo is a Fintech company that offers digital payment access to merchants through M-PESA, and then applies Big Data analytics to merchant payment transaction data to offer SMEs a range of value-added services, such as unsecured, short-term loans. Accelerating the development of digital payments for SMEs also strengthens the ecosystem for financial inclusion for consumers, allowing them to pay electronically, particularly important during this time of social distancing. Digital payments help formalize SMEs in emerging markets, which in turn can lead to the increase of overall economic output and expansion of the tax base.

Digital payments also provide a path toward financial inclusion for women—with strong evidence on the impact of government payments for women. Even before COVID-19, government payments (such as public sector wages, pensions, and safety net transfers) were the reason vast numbers of women—140 million, globally—opened their first bank account. In Argentina, for example, according to the 2017 Global Findex, approximately 20 percent of women who have an account opened their first account specifically to receive digital government payments.

The COVID-19 crisis is propelling a massive shift toward digital markets and digital finance. Handled responsibly, the digitalization of finance, for both individuals and firms, can reduce costs and open up new market and livelihood opportunities—helping countries rebuild better after COVID-19. 

By :




Source : World Bank Blogs


The organization’s Executive Secretary, Alicia Bárcena, will present the document at a virtual press conference on Wednesday, August 26, from the institution’s central headquarters in Santiago, Chile.

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) will present on Wednesday, August 26 its Special Report COVID-19 No. 7, in which it examines the key role of digital technologies in the pandemic prompted by the coronavirus and how gaps in access, affordability and network speed deepen the inequalities and vulnerabilities of the region’s population.

The new document, entitled Universalizing access to digital technologies to address the consequences of COVID-19, analyzes the advances and limitations of digitalization and assesses how digital solutions reduce the impact of measures aimed at containing the virus, such as lockdowns and social distancing. It also proposes measures in the area of connectivity and the digital economy for an inclusive reactivation.

The report will be unveiled during a virtual press conference held by Alicia Bárcena, ECLAC’s Executive Secretary, speaking from Santiago, Chile at 11:00 a.m. local time (UTC/GMT -4:00).

It will be transmitted live via Webex at the following link:

Journalists interested in participating must register in advance. They will receive an automated email reply with instructions for connecting to the event.

The press conference will also be transmitted online via the institution’s website and its social media accounts on Twitter (@cepal_onu) and Facebook ( Journalists will be able to submit their questions ahead of time to the email address, and ECLAC’s Executive Secretary will respond to them once she has finished presenting the document. Questions will only be taken until 11:30 a.m. local time.

According to the report, digital technologies have been essential for keeping the economy and society functioning during the COVID-19 crisis. Communications networks and infrastructure are getting ever more intensive use for production, education, health, personal relations and entertainment-related activities. Advances that were forecast to take years to come about have occurred in a matter of months. Updated figures on access to Internet in households and the use of technology for telecommuting, electronic health services, online education and electronic commerce, among other areas, will be part of the information that ECLAC’s Executive Secretary, Alicia Bárcena, will unveil.

Members of the media are invited to participate in the virtual press conference. Journalists must connect via the Webex system (prior registration is required) as of 11:00 a.m. local time (UTC/GMT -4:00). Accredited journalists will be able to send their questions in writing via the Webex platform’s chat while the event is taking place. They can also send their queries to the email address Questions will only be taken until 11:30 a.m. local time on Wednesday, August 26.

The presentation will also be transmitted on ECLAC’s website and at
The full electronic version of this new document by ECLAC, along with a press release and the presentation by Executive Secretary Alicia Bárcena, will be available on ECLAC’s website and on the webpage of the COVID-19 Observatory in Latin America and the Caribbean on Wednesday, August 26, as soon as the press conference has concluded.

What: Launch of ECLAC’s Special Report COVID-19 No. 7: Universalizing access to digital technologies to address the consequences of COVID-19

Who: Alicia Bárcena, ECLAC’s Executive Secretary.

When: Wednesday, August 26, 2020, 11:00 a.m. local time in Chile (GMT -04:00).

Where: Virtual connection via the Webex platform (prior registration required).

Event number: 160 898 4914
Event password: TEC2020

Also via ECLAC’s website and at

For queries and to arrange interviews, contact ECLAC’s Public Information Unit.

Email:; Telephone: (56) 22210 2040.

  • The COVID-19 global pandemic has led to a new reliance on digital infrastructure and connectivity.
  • Now, more than ever, it is essential that governments and telecommunications providers work in unison to bridge the widening digital gap.

In just six months, life as we know it has changed irrevocably, with widespread digital connectivity at the forefront. Global internet usage has grown by 70 percent, the use of mobile applications has doubled, voice calls have tripled, and many video-streaming services have grown by multiples.

Still, while the pandemic highlights the significance of digital infrastructure to both business and society, it also accentuates the global digital divide. In Latin America alone, school closures have left more than 154 million children unable to transition to e-learning thanks to the lack of access to online services. And while the crisis has enabled millions to work remotely, millions more without this privilege risk falling behind their peers in more developed countries.

COVID-19 has exacerbated existing vulnerabilities and created new ones. Now, more than ever, connectivity should be at the core of all priorities – from healthcare to education, government services and beyond. To close these digital gaps, new solutions are needed. Here are a few that can help in the immediate term.

Eased pressures

Many operators have offered solutions to those who have faced financial hardship, some voluntarily and some mandated by government, through flexible payment options and the lifting of data caps. But the truth is that telecommunications providers themselves also need measures in place to ease the financial pressure on business, such as the reduction of sector-specific fiscal burdens and taxation. Governments should relax regulatory barriers and permit commercial flexibility to offer special tariffs and zero-rated access to specific services.

If implemented correctly, these measures will allow telecommunications providers to continue to invest and roll out more infrastructure, thereby helping bridge the digital gap by ensuring consistent connectivity to all communities throughout the pandemic and beyond. The right infrastructure and connectivity will allow businesses and governments to digitalize internal processes to create more robust and resilient economies, thus keeping all parties involved connected.

Policy Easing

Regulators need to authorize the distribution and purchase of pre-paid mobile services in essential commercial premises for the 5.7 billion top-up customers globally, allowing those customers to purchase credit, update their pre-paid balances and continuously add to services from a digital standpoint, who otherwise would not be able to purchase broadband access where usual facilities are under lockdown policies.

Greater digitalization

As we continue to navigate the crisis, it will become essential to reduce or defer the payment of sector-specific taxes, as well as fees on mobile communications, data communications services, mobile money services and international gateways to encourage digital communications and transactions for both consumers and businesses alike. This will allow providers to work to bridge, rather than increase, the digital gap, keeping communities connected as best as possible and continuously build digital highways through regions such as Latin America.

Modernized networks

We will need to accelerate digital infrastructure roll-out to support greater digital inclusion. To accommodate the steady growth of mobile and fixed Internet traffic throughout Latin America, Millicom has doubled its network capacity to sustain a significant increase in consumption. Still, as a whole, the industry needs better capitalized, infrastructure-based operators, because the possibility of disruptions to the physical economy has only heightened the reliance of growing digital economies on strong operators.

To this end, Millicom committed to modernizing its mobile networks in February and deploying LTE 4.5G for the first time in El Salvador, providing new digital infrastructure that will become a key enabler to give Salvadorans higher speeds in the coming months.

New collaborations

As we continue to adapt to the “new normal” of increased digitalization, the time has come for telecommunications providers to continue to work closely with governments and legislative bodies to develop also long-term solutions to bridge the digital gap. The collective partnership between governments and the telecommunications industry has never been more important.

This week, the Forum published Accelerating Digital Inclusion in the New Normal,” a report highlighting digital strategies to increase broadband penetration and accelerate economic recovery, such as distributing unused universal services funds to stimulate digital investment in underserved regions, directing a portion of recovery packages to fund infrastructure investment in underserved areas, the digitalization of essential sectors, and facilitating the digitalization of small and medium-sized enterprises.

Some of these efforts have already taken shape. In my capacity as chair of the digital communications community of the World Economic Forum, I encouraged our industry in March to issue a governmental call to action to ensure continued, reliable connectivity. Once the Forum joined forces with The World Bank, ITU and GSMA to publish a Digital Development Action Plan, shared with regulators worldwide, we recommended a series of urgent short-term measures to relieve the congestion of networks, support access and affordability to users, and ease the financial pressure on service providers.

Still, there is more work ahead. The disruption to the physical economy has only highlighted the reliance of the growing digital economies on strong, infrastructure-based telecommunications operators. Five months into the pandemic, with the “new normal” of digital connectivity taking precedence in our daily lives, the time has come to heighten our coordinated action plan with each government to create incentivizing policy environments, unlock investments needed for future infrastructure roll-out, and most importantly, provide digital access for all people throughout Latin America and elsewhere.

Digitalizing the economy is a shared responsibility. Only through these coordinated efforts can we navigate through the crisis and truly bridge the digital divide.

Mauricio Ramos – Chief Executive Officer, USA, Millicom Inc.

Source : WEF Agenda


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