News

UPU

E-commerce has radically altered habits, created new opportunities for Posts and encouraged them to adapt services and economic models, the Deputy Director General of the Universal Postal Union (the UPU) Pascal Clivaz said at a high-profile event held on 8 April.

“Posts offer a unique last-mile delivery network and support the inclusion of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises by affording them the means of selling their products online, including for delivery to other countries,” added Mr Clivaz.

Isabelle Durant, Acting Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said that the evaluations have helped all actors, whether they be political decision-makers, civil society and the private sector, to above all, familiarize themselves with the issues of digital transformation and particularly e-commerce.

The UPU Deputy Director General and UNCTAD Acting Secretary-General were speaking at a virtual event to mark the launch of an evaluation of Côte D’Ivoire’s preparedness for e-commerce under the eTrade for All initiative.

Mr. Clivaz told the virtual audience that UPU was busy developing projects and technical assistance tools designed to prepare Posts for e-commerce in the areas of operations, digital transformation and payment methods. “Our aim is to make a tangible and effective contribution for the benefit of Posts and our member countries through e-commerce,” said the UPU Deputy Director General.

The evaluation report on Côte d’Ivoire shows that Post’s are central to the eTrade for All initiative, while highlighting the challenges faced by La Poste de Côte d’Ivoire. Mr. Clivaz said he was proud to say that some important actions had already been launched due to the incisive recommendations set out in the report.

eTrade for all is an UNCTAD-led initiative which recognizes that E-commerce is a powerful driver of economic growth, inclusive trade and job-creation across the developing world. Although there are developing countries making advances in e-commerce, others have yet to catch up and seize the available opportunities.

By forging cooperation among partners, including the UPU, the initiative aims to unlock the enormous potential of developing countries and encourage them to embrace the Internet’s ability to enhance economic development.

At the centre of these diverse activities is the eTrade for all platform.

Other speakers on the panel included Helena Leurent, Director General, Consumers International, Aissatou Diallo, Senior Coordinator of ZLECAF and PMA; Adriana Nunes, Consultant, GIZ, Souleymane Diarrassouba, Minister of Industry and Commerce and moderator, Cécile Barayre, Head of Capacity Reinforcement in E-Commerce (UNCTAD)

UNCTAD

An assessment of the e-commerce ecosystem in Côte d’Ivoire will help businesses in the sector adapt to COVID-19 challenges and comply with new regulations.

UNCTAD’s eTrade readiness assessment of Côte d’Ivoire, launched on 8 April, will help the country’s e-commerce businesses better adapt to the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and comply with new regulations, according to one of the country’s leading digital entrepreneurs.

Patricia Yao, founder and chief executive officer of QuickCash, a platform providing mobile payment services to rural customers, said the assessment would help policymakers and businesses better understand the impact of COVID-19 on the sector.

“The assessment will help us adapt the responses of the digital ecosystem in Côte d’Ivoire, taking into account the challenges and opportunities raised by the current crisis,” said Ms. Yao, UNCTAD’s e-Trade for Women Advocate for west Africa.

Progress and challenges

The assessment found that Côte d’Ivoire has made significant progress in recent years to improve access to the digital economy and e-commerce.

The country’s digital economy program is integrated into its national development plan and includes the digitalization of a series of financial as well as government services.

It also includes and the expansion of critical information and communications technology infrastructure, with the implementation of a national broadband network project.

Despite these important strides, and its relatively vibrant economy, Côte d’Ivoire needs to tackle the challenges hindering its e-commerce growth.

These include costly and limited internet access, inefficient physical addresses, low public awareness on online commerce and limited digital skills of micro, small- and medium-sized businesses to effectively engage in e-commerce activities.

“It’s important to take priority actions to accelerate digital transformation in Côte d’Ivoire and allow e-commerce players to seize available opportunities. This is especially important in the wake of COVID-19 and in an increasingly integrated west African region,” said UNCTAD Acting Secretary-General Isabelle Durant.

“The valuable recommendations of this report will provide an important framework for future policy action, with a view to accelerating e-commerce uptake in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said  the country’s trade and industry minister, Souleymane Diarrassouba.

Consultative process

The assessment report is a product of a consultative process that brought together representatives of the government, the private sector and development partners.

Ms. Yao said the assessment’s multi-stakeholder approach would facilitate the implementation of future regulations and policies.

“By bringing all the concerned actors around the table, it will be easier to implement new measures because they have been previously discussed and agreed upon,” she said. “In the past, when new laws were adopted, they were difficult to comply with because those affected hadn’t been involved in their formulation.”

The assessment was funded by the German government and prepared in cooperation with the Universal Postal Union, International Trade Centre and Consumers International.

UNCTAD has conducted such assessments in 27 countries, fostering coordination and dialogue between various stakeholders and helping them overcome structural barriers to make e-commerce an engine of inclusive and sustainable development.

WEF
  • Global tax policy on digital services has to be multilateral – and should be more carrot than stick, Josh Kallmer, Zoom’s Head of Global Public Policy and Government Relations has said.
  • He was speaking at the World Economic Forum’s Global Technology Governance Summit hosted by Japan.
  • The OECD is making progress on agreeing a set of principles to revolutionize the taxation of multinationals, as well as better taxation of the digital economy.
  • Zoom profits soared in 2020, as working from home became the norm in the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Some European OECD countries have already implemented Digital Services Taxes – and the US has set out plans for a global minimum corporation tax.

Zoom chief Josh Kallmer has called for a multilateral rethink of tax policy, that recognizes how much the world has become digitized, but also encourages new, smaller innovators.

Kallmer, the Head of Global Public Policy and Government Relations at the video communications company, was speaking at the World Economic Forum’s Global Technology Governance Summit hosted by Japan, as leading economies moved a step closer to agreeing principles to revolutionize corporate tax.

He said: “We’d really like to see a multilateral solution with all the players at the table leaning into the idea that the way the economy is now, it demands answers to these questions. We want to avoid the unilateral approaches that so many markets are taking.

“This debate is thinking about tax policy as a stick, that may be unfair, it has an important role to play. But is there a way potentially to look at tax policy as a set of carrots, ways to encourage activity we want to encourage, like innovation and actual physical investments in certain markets.

“That’s a conversation that Zoom would be very eager to have. We’re committed to the growth and development of markets around the world and working with governments to get there. We want to find creative, coordinated, multilateral ways of getting there.”

‘Multilateralism at stake’

“If there were ever an issue that was fundamentally international, where the cross-border interdependence was so undeniable, it’s this,” Kallmer added, during a session on Taxing Digital Value.

“Ultimately, whether you’re looking at revenue or income, there’s a fixed amount of money in the world and we have to have a principled, coherent, consistent way to determine how to allocate taxing rights with respect to that.

“And it’s not just the global tax system that’s at stake, it’s the concept of multilateralism, the concept of cooperating together to meet the challenges that we all face now.”

In the past year, Zoom has arguably become one of the world’s biggest digital companies.

With COVID-19 lockdowns forcing stay-at-home orders across the globe, working from home became the norm and use of the communications tool skyrocketed as meetings went virtual.

Sales leapt by 326% to $2.6 billion in 2020, seeing profits go from $21.7 million in 2019 to $671.5 million in 2020.

From Zoom’s perspective, Kallmer said it was also important that digitization was viewed “as a whole” in discussions on tax.

“Certainly there are some companies that are very significant players, but we’re dealing with a larger phenomenon where it’s not just internet platforms, but services companies of all kinds providing services across borders digitally, often with no physical place of business, so it goes beyond a small group of admittedly very important countries.”

Digital Services Taxes in Europe
Digital services taxes have been implemented in parts of Europe.
Image: KPMG-Tax Foundation

Digitization has changed the playing field

In the last two decades, the notion of ‘permanent establishment’, of a physical place of business as the anchor for allocating taxing rights, has “lost some of its utility”, he added.

“It’s still an important concept and fixture in the set of international tax norms, but there is certainly an appreciation within Zoom and across the global tech sector as a whole that digitization has legitimately changed the playing field and that governments have legitimate questions about how to respond.”

Earlier this week, the US treasury announced plans for a global minimum corporation tax, which has been backed by the EU.

The OECD has already been working on a two-pillar global taxation scheme for some time, with two pillars that address taxing companies where they make profits even if they do not have a physical presence there.

The second pillar of the OECD scheme, reports Reuters, is to establish a global minimum tax rate, which could apply to all companies, so that governments do not compete with each other offering lower taxes to attract large multinational firms.

Kallmer, the former Executive Vice President, Policy, Information Technology Industry Council (ITI), said there are some very real competition-related, and in the US, anti-trust related questions happening in the global economy, in the technology sector and other settings.

“From Zoom’s point of view, as still a relatively small company, in a relatively competitive environment we’re following those issues, we care about the outcomes of those discussions.

“We all agree the economy has changed in ways that make re-examining global tax issues appropriate. But we may have some differences on how to get there.”

Challenges and shared problems

Kallmer highlighted key challenges in the tax debate, including the prospect of double or multiple taxation.

“If you don’t have clear rules of the road agreed among countries that are essentially battling over the same quantity of revenue or profits, you have the very real prospect of that happening.”

There’s a potential penalty for small innovative companies, as some Digital Service Taxes don’t have minimum revenue thresholds, he said.

“So you have small companies, many of whom don’t make a profit for many years, who could potentially be within scope and taxed on revenue that is not part of an overall profit-making effort.”

Administration and implementation are also factors: “It’s no small feat, even for a relatively large company, to re-engineer their financial reporting to comply with greatly varying rules from market to market, so there’s a deadweight loss there, that occurs.”

He said his final point goes beyond tax to how we tackle all shared global problems. “When individual markets depart from a multilateral approach, it affects the larger global environment as well, it affects trade policy… it’s reasonable to expect that it would affect things like how we fight climate change, truly shared problems that we need to be working together to address.”

Watch the full session on Taxing Digital Value here.

UNCDF

On 16 March 2021, the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) and the United Nations Office of South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC), funded by the India-UN Partnership Fund, partnered to digitalize utility payments and thus drive digital and financial inclusion for many of Zambia’s underserved customers. Both organizations aim to work with Zambia’s Ministry of Finance (MOF) to increase the availability and usage of utilities for women and youth, in particular.

 

Utilities, such as water, energy and sanitation, are essential services but in many parts of Zambia, these services are not easily accessible for various reasons, including the mode of payment available. Utilities are primarily paid for in cash, which can pose limitations for women and young people as they often do not have control over household finances. Digitalizing utilities payments can bring immediate benefits to customers, such as:

  • increased affordability of the service(s);
  • increased penetration utility services, making them more widespread;
  • improved quality of life;
  • improved livelihoods by empowering customers with digital and financial skills that can be used in the growing and inclusive economy of Zambia.

 

The project, which will be implemented over the next 13 months, will accelerate the development and financing of inclusive digital payment solutions in the utilities sector. This project is timely and was well-received by the government of Zambia as it will directly address specific aspects of Zambia’s National Financial Inclusion Strategy (NFIS) that are considered of ‘high priority and high impact.’ These include:

  • Designing and launching simplified products for underserved consumers through mobile based channels and others;
  • Migrating Government-to Persons and Persons-to-Government payments from cash to digital platforms.

 

The MOF and UNCDF will collaborate to develop workable digital channels and leverage existing digital payments solutions to reach more customers with the services they need. Because utility services are essential, a well-developed digital utilities sector will be a vital tool and will play a pivotal role in advancing digital and financial inclusion, especially for women and youth. Digital payments have proven to lower the cost of providing financial services to low-income people and marginalized communities, while increasing the safety and convenience of using savings and payments.

 

UNCDF, the technical assistance provider, will work with MOF, the implementing partner to design an environment where financial service providers (FSPs), FinTechs and Regulators will collaborate with the Ministry to test and implement new solutions for utility payments, particularly water.

 

Mr. Adel Abdellatif, Director, Ad Interim (a.i.), United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC) says, “The India-UN Development Partnership Fund exemplifies South-South cooperation at work. Collaboration between Zambia’s Ministry of Finance and the Government of India to support building digital financial inclusion in Zambia demonstrates that countries with similar development challenges can cooperate to solve and overcome those challenges. UNOSSC is proud to manage the India-UN Development Partnership Fund which is rapidly implementing demand-driven projects across the South.”

 

“Digital payments for utilities are no longer a “nice-to-have” but a “must-have” service. Through this project, we envision strengthening existing digitalizing efforts within the utilities sector, with the objective of using utility payments as a catalyst for including Zambians who are unbanked. In addition, digitalizing utilities creates opportunities for seamless customer experiences, reduces dependency and cost of cash payments, enables faster transfer of payments and reduces collection and operational costs for utility providers. This initiative will also have a focus of supporting government to create an enabling environment towards the digital transformation of Zambia.” says Isaac Holly, Country Lead for UNCDF.

 

The Ministry of Finance in Zambia commented that, “In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, digitalization of payments for services in the utility sector and other sectors makes it more convenient, cost effective and safe for service delivery which is critical in arresting the spread of the pandemic. In this context, the Government has continued to implement the National Financial Inclusion Strategy which, among other things, seeks to migrate Government-to-Person (G2P) and Person-to-Government (P2P) payments and improve outreach and adoption of digital financial services. The partnership with UNCDF will, therefore, complement Government efforts in improving livelihoods of all Zambians, especially the vulnerable groups of society (women, youth and children).”

 

With a specific focus on women and youth, the project aims to enhance youth and female participation in the market, resulting in poverty reduction, improved livelihoods and economic growth. Working with the MOF in this sector also provides further opportunity to enhance UNCDF’s vision to build inclusive digital economies. The increased usage and adoption of digital utilities is expected to spur market players to expand to additional geographies around the country, thus allowing more equitable distribution of services and consequently an increased investment in the digital sector. This brings benefits to all those who are digitally included and allows them to participate in the digital economy.

 

The India-UN Development Partnership Fund recently pledged support for an initiative to create a climate disaster risk financing framework for Fiji.

 

About UNOSSC

The United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC) promotes, coordinates and supports South-South and triangular cooperation globally and within the United Nations system. It manages the India-UN Development Partnership Fund at the request of the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations in New York. The Office engages a wide range of partners toward achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, and to foster self-reliance in developing countries according to their national aspirations and values.

 

About UNCDF

The UN Capital Development Fund makes public and private finance work for the poor in the world’s 46 least developed countries (LDCs). UNCDF offers “last mile” finance models that unlock public and private resources, especially at the domestic level, to reduce poverty and support local economic development. The UNCDF financing models work through three channels: (1) inclusive digital economies, which connects individuals, households, and small businesses with financial eco-systems that catalyze participation in the local economy, and provide tools to climb out of poverty and manage financial lives; (2) local development finance, which capacitates localities through fiscal decentralization, innovative municipal finance, and structured project finance to drive local economic expansion and sustainable development; and (3) investment finance, which provides catalytic financial structuring, de-risking, and capital deployment to drive SDG impact and domestic resource mobilization.

WEF

Every time you make an electronic payment, whether from your mobile, online, or with a card, that transaction passes through multiple systems. Each of them plays a role in processing that payment and forms part of the sequence of checks and balances that exist between payer and payee.

It can be a long, complex and costly chain of connections, with each taking a small fee from every transaction. Typically, it involves a series of banks or other large payment processing businesses who keep track of the money on its journey from A to B. Identities are verified, creditworthiness is established and sums of money are accurately reconciled between accounts.

Without such processes, how could trusted payments take place? Enter blockchain, which has the potential to disrupt that process completely. And not just for payments, but other forms of transaction including the flow of goods and information around the world.

Blockchain can seem complicated and a little impenetrable, which is ironic as one of the core tenets of this technology is its openness and transparency.

How does blockchain work?

Blockchain allows consumers and suppliers to connect directly, removing the need for a third party such as a bank.

There are some fundamentals to understanding blockchain, including the notion of a distributed ledger. Using cryptography to keep exchanges secure, blockchain provides a decentralized database, or “digital ledger”, of transactions that everyone on the network can see. This network is essentially a chain of computers that must all approve an exchange before it can be verified and recorded.

Consulting firm Deloitte explains it as follows: “You (a ‘node’) have a file of transactions on your computer (a ‘ledger’). Two government accountants (let’s call them ‘miners’) have the same file on theirs (so it’s ‘distributed’). As you make a transaction, your computer sends an email to each accountant to inform them … the first to check and validate hits REPLY ALL, attaching their logic for verifying the transaction (‘proof of work’). If the other accountant agrees, everyone updates their file.”

In theory, it could be completely open on the public internet, or blockchain can be used within defined networks – there are different configurations for different use cases. In the latter configuration, the data pertaining to a transaction will be stored, simultaneously on the dozens, or hundreds, or thousands of computers within that defined network. That data will update in close to real time, so that anyone on the network can see everyone else’s entries.

Instead of having to outsource the idea of being able to trust in a transaction to banks and other intermediaries, blockchain puts trust out in the open by making everything visible. And because it is open and distributed, no single party on the network can exert undue control or influence on the ledger – or anyone attached to it.

It has a long way to go, though, before it really becomes part of the mainstream. Concerns around trust and regulatory compliance are among the top reasons for its slow adoption, according to the data journalism organization, Statista.

the different causes preventing people from adopting blockchain globally
The barriers to blockchain.
Image: Statista

More than money and bitcoins

Although cryptocurrencies depend on blockchain and are frequently cited as how blockchain works, they are far from being its only application.

It can be used to record and track the ownership of a photographic image or a piece of music or a patent for a new gadget. It can even be used to track the provenance of food – from farm to plate – and medical supplies, including vaccines.

IBM describes blockchain as: “A shared, immutable ledger that facilitates the process of recording transactions and tracking assets in a business network. An asset can be tangible (a house, car, cash, land) or intangible (intellectual property, patents, copyrights, branding). Virtually anything of value can be tracked and traded on a blockchain network, reducing risk and cutting costs for all involved.”

Through its Food Trust network, IBM is working with businesses from the length of the food supply chain, including Carrefour, Nestlé and others. On the Food Network website, Chris Tyas, Global Head of Supply Chain for Nestlé, says: “People want to know, quite rightly, where ingredients they give to their baby have come from. We wanted a product in which trust meant something.”

“You are building a halo effect – ‘If I can trust Carrefour with this chicken, I can also trust Carrefour for their apples or cheese,’” Emmanuel Delerm, Carrefour’s blockchain project manager, told the news agency Reuters in 2019.

 

UNCTAD

Not only is network coverage much lower in least developed countries than in the rest of the world, but their mobile data usage is also significantly more expensive, according to an UNCTAD analysis.

The rapid penetration of mobile phones across the developing world, and the boom in associated internet use, have raised hopes that digital technologies could play a key role in the quest for sustainable development.

While some cautious optimism may be justified, given the scope for lowering communication and transaction costs across a range of activities, simplistic hype around these developments needs to be dispelled.

The above chart, realized with data for 2019, unequivocally shows the extent of the technological divide plaguing economies of least developed countries (LDCs), even in relation to a now-well-established technology such as mobile telephony.

Not only is network coverage much lower than in the rest of the world (with LDCs scoring on average 54, compared with 83 in the rest of the world), but data usage remains significantly more expensive.

The mobile data affordability indicator average is 30 for LDCs and 63 in the rest of the world.

The median cost of “mobile data and voice low-usage basket” (which is 70 minutes of voice, 20 short messages and 500 megabytes of mobile data allowance) was 9.55% of monthly gross national income per capita (or $7.56) for LDCs in 2020.

Digital divide perpetuates inequalities

This situation perpetuates existing inequalities – rural vs urban, poor vs rich – that intersect with micro-level disparities across gender and ethnicities, among others.

Although the gender gap in internet use has narrowed in recent years, women are still 20% less likely than men to use mobile internet in low- and middle-income countries.

These constraints also explain why the uptake of digital technology for production, rather than consumption purposes, still lags in many LDCs. UNCTAD’s new Productive Capacities Index (PCI) provides further insight into the use of information and communications technologies, an essential component for building, maintaining and using productive capacities.

Against this background, more needs to be done to ensure digital technologies effectively contribute to shared prosperity and support sustainable development in LDCs.

Mobilizing resources to bridge the digital divide, lowering costs of internet access, and supporting investment in digital skills are three critical priorities for LDCs; all of which could be summed up as investing in digital productive capacities.

These policies require, however, financial resources, and at a time when COVID-19 is accelerating digitalization, ensuring LDCs get adequate access to sustainable development finance remains key to building back better.

Source: UNCTAD calculations based on data from GSMA Intelligence 2020

Notes: The network coverage indicator is constructed by aggregating normalized data on the percentage of population covered by 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G network. The mobile data affordability indicator is the cost of usage allowance of 500MB as a per cent of monthly GDP per capita; data (in logarithm) are then normalized and “inversed”, so that a higher score means more affordability.

ITU

Delegates at ITU-ATU preparatory meeting launch “Digital Trends Africa 2021”, discuss COVID-19 impact and hear youth perspectives on digital development.

The third of six meetings to prepare for the ITU World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC-21) took place on 29 and 30 March, with a focus on digital challenges and opportunities for countries, the industry and citizens across Africa.

Held virtually and co-organized with the African Telecommunications Union (ATU), the Regional Preparatory Meeting (RPM) for Africa  gathered more than 300 delegates from 33 countries to ensure regional coordination ahead of WTDC-21, set to happen in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from 8 to 19 November 2021.

WTDC-21 aims to highlight innovative approaches, encourage new models of collaboration, and promote connectivity and digital solutions, particularly in this final Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations.

“For all of us to be ready, all African countries must be individually ready,” said the ATU Secretary-General, John Omo, encouraging ATU member states to participate actively in WTDC-21. “This is only possible through a demonstration of sober and visible efforts, especially in this preparatory phase.”

Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau, added: “In today’s complex and challenging environment, solving the many complex connectivity challenges faced by the African region cannot be done alone. Real progress will depend on broad, multi-stakeholder digital cooperation. Building broad consensus around concrete ways forward – and finding new and effective ways to work together to achieve the impact we need – is what we hope to achieve at WTDC-21 in November.”

Joint hosting with the ATU helped to ensure participation from every part of the continent, bringing “additional value and synergies to our discussions,” she added.

Proposed regional priorities 

WTDC-21 aims to forge a global plan for digital development over the next four years, providing future direction and guidance to the ITU Telecommunication Development Sector (ITU-D).

Participants at RPM Africa proposed the following regional priorities for the years 2022-2025:

  • Support digital transformation to usher a rapid transition to digital economy while accelerating innovation in Africa;
  • Implement and expand broadband infrastructures, connectivity and emerging technologies;
  • Build trust, safety and security in the use of telecommunication/information and communication technology, and protect personal data;
  • Foster digital industries and innovation ecosystems.

Andrew Rugege, ITU Regional Director for Africa, said: “COVID-19 has shown us how critical ICTs are in our daily lives. This joint ITU/ATU Regional Preparatory Meeting is timely, in that it provided a platform for our members to deliberate on what digital strategies and policies should be tabled at the World Telecommunication Development Conference, to help Africa not only mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic but also build back better.”

The meeting was opened by Hadja Fatimata Ouattara, Minister of Digital Economy, Posts, and Digital Transformation of Burkina Faso and host of RPM Africa. The event also benefited from the presence and support of Amani Abou-Zeid, Commissioner of Infrastructure and Energy of the African Union Commission, Oliver Chinganya, Director for the African Centre for Statistics and Head of the Digital Centre of Excellence, on behalf of Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, and Mesfin Belachew Tefera on behalf of Ahmedin Mohammed, Minister of Innovation and Technology of Ethiopia.

Digital Trends in Africa 2021

A report released at the regional meeting, Digital Trends in Africa 2021, offers an overview of trends and developments in ICT infrastructure, access and use in Africa. The report can serve as a reference for the ITU membership in reviewing progress and identifying ICT regional development priorities.

Mobile network coverage stands at 88.4% but the lack of affordability, skills or meaningful access continue to hinder digital development, with such obstacles being further magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Compared to other major world regions, Africa is where regulatory frameworks have evolved the most over the past 10 years, the report finds. Today, 64% of African countries have either overarching national policies or an ICT master plan, up from less than 40% five years ago.

According to the report, the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed consumers, businesses and governments in Africa to adopt digital services and technologies wherever digital access was available. This has accelerated digital transformation and changed the prevailing mindset on advanced network technologies.

Generation Connect Africa Youth Group Declaration

The Generation Connect Africa Youth Group (GC-AFR) comprises of 26 competitively selected young people from all across the region. The group was established within the framework of the Generation Connect initiative to promote meaningful youth engagement and participation in the international dialogue on digital development.

Ahead of RPM Africa, members worked together to identify regional digital priorities and discuss related opportunities and challenges. Key priorities include: Digital Infrastructure and Technologies, Digital Inclusion, Capacity Development, Digital Services and Applications, Digital Innovation Ecosystem, Cybersecurity, and Policy and Regulation.

The Africa Youth Group’s declaration, presented at the RPM, outlines the perspectives and concerns of youth relating to these priorities and proposes key actions for regional consideration. Youth Group participants will remain engaged in the run-up to WTDC-21, including the preceding Generation Connect Youth Summit.

Network of Women for the ITU Telecommunication Development Sector

A side-event on 30 March unveiled the Africa Network of Women (NoW) for WTDC-21. Prominent women and role models in the technology sector in Africa convened to share, support and inspire others. The network seeks to increase the visibility of opportunities for women in the sector, strengthen and promote female participation in ITU’s activities and create a trusted community and platform for exchange.

WTO

Remarks by DDG Yi

Ambassadors, distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good morning.

It is my great pleasure to welcome you to the second edition of the WTO Global Trade & Blockchain Forum. Let me begin by thanking our Economic Research and Statistics Division for having put this event together.

A lot has happened since the first Forum we held in December 2019. The Covid-19 pandemic has shaken the world, causing massive supply chain disruptions and threatening the lives and livelihoods of millions of people.

It has exposed supply chain inefficiencies, and the record seizures of faulty and counterfeit masks and other personal protective equipment in the US, Australia and other places have highlighted the vulnerability of the medical device supply chain and the need for greater integrity and provenance of medical supplies and other critical products.

The pandemic has also brought to the fore the archaism of trade processes still largely based on paper, with dire consequences on business operations in times of lockdowns. It has brought into sharp focus the need to urgently digitalize these outdated paper-based processes. The last twelve months have shown that going digital is no longer optional. It is a matter of survival for many companies, in particular the smallest ones who have been hit very hard by the current crisis.

So how can we bring trade digitalization to its next level? In spite of all the efforts made over the last decades, the adoption of electronic bills of lading – which is a key document in international trade – remains ridiculously low, at 0.1%.

How can we accelerate trade digitalization to build back better? Can advanced technologies, in particular distributed ledger technology – commonly referred to as blockchain – help to address the risks and inefficiencies in global supply chains and strengthen trade resilience?

Today’s event will dive into these issues. It will explore how technology, in particular distributed ledger technology, can be leveraged to enhance transparency and efficiency of supply chains and trade processes. It will discuss latest blockchain developments in trade and trade finance and how trade digitalization can be accelerated to the benefit of all, developed and developing economies, large and small companies. It will also provide an opportunity to explore the importance of digital identity for trade digitalization, a topic that is starting to emerge – although still timidly – in trade discussions.

But we all know that technology is only a tool and that trade digitalization cannot happen in a regulatory vacuum. Today’s final session will discuss the role that governments and international organizations can play to support the development of a regulatory and policy framework conducive to trade digitalization and to the deployment of distributed ledger technology.

Today’s Forum brings together a broad range of actors – trade officials and policy makers, as well as CEOs and senior officials of large and small companies, tech companies, and business associations – in an attempt to foster discussions on these issues at a cross-sectoral level with the wider community.

I’m delighted that we have with us today two keynote speakers who will share their vision of blockchain for trade. First, Mr John Denton, Secretary General of the International Chamber of Commerce. The ICC has been pushing the trade digitalization agenda very actively and recently launched a new initiative, the ICC Digital Standards Initiative (DSI) which aims at addressing the digital island problem – the fact that many of the projects that are being developed follow a siloed and disconnected approach leading to fragmentation between systems and networks that prevents end-to-end trade digitalization.

I would like to thank the ICC for having extended an invitation to the WTO to participate in the governing board of this initiative to advance trade digitalization work at a practical level in a public-private cooperation spirit. Having all stakeholders involved in this work is critical.

Our second keynote speaker is Mr. Lew Chuen Hong who is CEO of the Infocomm Media Development Authority of Singapore. Singapore has been spearheading work on blockchain for trade. Mr. Lew Chuen Hong will share with us some of the initiatives they’ve been working on to promote trade digitalization.

We’re also launching today a new publication with the International Chamber of Commerce and Trade Finance Global entitled “Accelerating Trade Digitalization to Support MSME Financing”. The publication explores how digital technologies such as blockchain, but also big data analytics, artificial intelligence, the internet of things (IoT), cloud computing, optical recognition character (OCR), and application programming interfaces (APIs), can facilitate MSMEs’ access to finance.

We’re all acutely aware of the challenges that MSMEs face in accessing financing. The MSME financing gap is a reality that cannot be ignored and that needs to be tackled with determination if we wish to ensure that small players are given a chance to thrive. Indeed, for many micro, small and medium-sized enterprises around the world today, access to financing can mean the difference between prosperity and bankruptcy.

Based on a survey of 105 practitioners in the field and more than 30 qualitative interviews, this publication aims to shed light on the opportunities that technology opens to make MSMEs’ access to finance, including trade finance, more accessible. It discusses the challenges standing on the path to adoption and outlines a multi-pronged approach to unleash the potential of digital technologies to facilitate MSME financing.

We’re also announcing today the launch of an online introduction course on blockchain for trade developed jointly with the International Trade Center. I would like to extend my sincere thanks to the ITC team for their support and help in producing this course.

The course, which will be officially launched in the coming weeks, appeals to technical and non-technical audiences alike and will be freely accessible through both the ITC SME Trade Academy and WTO E-learning platforms. It contains four modules (Why blockchain?; What is blockchain technology?; How can blockchain be used in international trade?; and Implementing blockchain for trade).

The lectures have a particular MSME focus. They examine the opportunities that blockchain technology may create for small producers and enterprises, especially those located in developing countries. Session 3 of today’s Forum will give you the opportunity to learn more about the content of this course and how you can register to take it.

I hope that today’s discussions will provide useful insights and food for thought on the issue of trade digitalization and that the ideas that emerge will help guide Members’ thinking and actions going forward.

We have a fantastic set of speakers with us, so I have no doubt that it will be a very productive event. Enjoy the discussions!

Thank you for listening.

WTO

The 2021 Global Trade and Blockchain Forum held on 30 March brought together policy-makers, trade officials and business representatives to discuss how to leverage blockchain technology to enhance the transparency and efficiency of supply chains and trade processes. It also looked into the role of governments in unlocking the potential of these technologies. The event included the launch of a new publication on trade digitalization co-published by the WTO and Trade Finance Global and a new online course on blockchain for trade.

The event, entitled “Accelerating Trade Digitalization through distributed ledger technology”, reviewed the latest developments in blockchain and how digital technologies such as distributed ledger technology (DLT) can help address the risks and inefficiencies in global supply chains to the benefit of all.  A distributed ledger is a digital list or database shared among nodes in a distributed network. Blockchain is one type of distributed ledger. More details on the event is available here.

In his opening remarks, Deputy-Director General Xiaozhun Yi said: “The pandemic has brought to the fore the archaism of trade processes still largely based on paper, with dire consequences on business operations in times of lockdowns. It has brought into sharp focus the need to urgently digitalize these outdated paper-based processes. The last 12 months have shown that going digital is no longer optional. It is a matter of survival for many companies, in particular the smallest ones who have been hit very hard by the current crisis.” DDG Yi’s full remarks are available here.

In his keynote speech, the Secretary General of the International Chamber of Commerce, John Denton, said: “The economy cannot be simply put on ice indefinitely. Why prolong the human and economic pain of doing so, when existing technologies can be readily deployed to restore cross-border economic activity while guarding against unfettered spread of the virus? We have spoken for years about the potential for digital platforms and blockchain solutions to democratize access to the global trading system. With struggling SMEs desperately needing new sources of demand, it is high time to finally deliver on that promise if we are to deliver a truly resilient and durable recovery in the years ahead. Governments must lead from the front in this regard.”

In his keynote speech, Lew Chuen Hong, CEO of Infocomm Media Development Authority of Singapore, said: “While the trade and economic landscape as it stands today remains challenging, all of us are looking beyond the pandemic so as to emerge stronger both as governments and as business and I believe the move towards trade digitization is a key pillar. We must try to harmonize our policies and legal frameworks, and align to open technology standards. These are all the basic foundations for ubiquitous digitalization.”

The event is the second edition of the Global Trade and Blockchain Forum. The first was held in 2018. More information is available here.

New publication

Accelerating Trade Digitalization to Support MSME Financing”, launched today, seeks to identify some of the most pressing challenges related to trade financing for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) and explores the potential application of digital technologies to  address these challenges. The publication is based on interviews and surveys with experts in the field of MSME financing, including trade financing, and explores the ways that technology can be used to enhance access to financing.

The technologies discussed include cloud computing, optical character recognition , the Internet of Things, big data analytics, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, distributed ledger technology and application programming interfaces.

The publication examines some of the challenges related to MSME financing and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in this area. It examines key digital technologies and their potential benefit to MSME financing and presents case studies of companies utilizing these technologies, the challenges they face, and recommendations for overcoming these challenges.

The publication highlights the need for a multi-pronged approach to unleash the potential of digital technologies to facilitate MSME financing. This includes the need for the development of globally accepted standards and a common framework for leveraging data to better assess financing risk. There is also a need for an enabling regulatory framework that recognizes e-signatures and e-documents and is in line with the UNCITRAL Model Law on Electronic Transferable Records. Also needed is a trusted global digital identity system for companies. In addition, the publication highlights the importance of bridging the digital divide and raising MSME awareness through education.

The publication can be found here.

ITU

Despite having no limbs, Joanne O’Riordan can type 42 words per minute. But while attending elementary school in rural Ireland, the 24-year-old sports journalist used to struggle to complete her homework.

It was not for lack of arms and legs, she said, but rather because of her limited access to broadband Internet.

“As we move into the future, broadband is going to be as vital to social and economic advancement as motorways, dams or electricity were in the 20th century,” O’Riordan said during an ITU Connect2Include discussion last week.

The online session formed part of the Road to Addis series of events leading up to the 2021 World Telecommunication Development Conference, set to be held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, later this year.

The event addressed the challenges still faced by specific groups of people – women and girls, youth and elderly, persons with disabilities, children, indigenous people, and those living in remote areas – as obstacles to achieving true and meaningful connectivity for everyone.

O’Riordan, who was born limbless due to Total Amelia syndrome, eventually learned to type and to code since there was no software that could accommodate her disability. At Connect2Include, she shared how digital technologies have been instrumental in the pursuit of her life’s mission: advocating for equitable access to employment, education, and healthcare.

“We need to make sure that national planning, and public and private sector investments are involved – and that investment is done correctly, that there are no unfair disparities, and that there is a human interaction with users.”

People-centred technology

Half of the world’s population remains unconnected and is left out from the benefits provided by information and communication technologies (ICTs). That includes approximately 2 billion women, and 2.2 billion young people under the age of 25 without fixed broadband Internet access at home.

“In our post-COVID-19 world, digital exclusion increasingly means economic, social, and educational exclusion; an exclusion from a whole raft of new opportunities that those of us already connected take for granted,” said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau. “Digital exclusion impacts certain demographics more than others, such as women and girls, the elderly, persons with disabilities, children, indigenous groups and people living in remote areas.”

The President of Ethiopia, Sahle-Work Zahle, said technologies need to accommodate people rather than the other way around. “Digital inclusion has two basic underlying concepts: access to affordable and high-quality technology, and digital literacy and competency that is needed to utilize technology efficiently,” she explained.

“Ensuring that no one is left behind means ensuring that technology is people-centred.”

Lissette Gonzalez of Telecomunicaciones Indigenas Comunitarias A.C. in Mexico suggested thinking of technology as a human right that can enable us to make decisions. “We must own and adjust technology to the realities of our context and territories, improving the quality of our lives,” Gonzalez said. “If we think of technology as part of our natural environment, we will build it with a more human focus.”

More than a privilege

Claudia Gordon, Director of Government and Compliance at T-Mobile Accessibility and a lawyer by profession, also had trouble finding affordable digital tools and services tailored to meet her specific needs.

As a deaf person, she only got her first television captioning box when she turned 18. Captioned television had been unavailable in Jamaica where she grew up.

More than 1 billion people in the world are living with some form of disability, with consequent challenges for digital engagement.

“Access to ICTs is more than just a privilege. It should be considered a right, especially for those with disabilities,” Gordon said. “ICTs empower us and give us a sense of independence. Without access to ICTs, I wouldn’t have been able to become an attorney. So many people around the world in the same position really need ICTs for those critical skills.”

She expresses pride in her company taking accessibility seriously and innovating where needed. Tailored digital solutions include captioned telephones for people with hearing loss, or Internet protocol and video relay services for deaf-blind persons.

“We need to consider ICTs broadly and think of all types of disabilities,” she added. “And we need to innovate not for, but with, persons with disabilities, because they know what solutions work for them.”

Diversity as a driver of talent

According to Judith M. Williams, Head of People Sustainability, Senior Vice President, and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at SAP, diversity drives innovation

“We are only able to improve people’s lives if we have a diverse and inclusive workforce where we empower people to run at their best,” she says.

A company roadmap keeps every product accessible to those with disabilities.

For example, an Autism at Work programme adapts hiring and onboarding processes to meet the needs of autistic employees, enabling the recruitment of talent that might have been overlooked.

Next stop on the Road to Addis

The Road to Addis series aims to build awareness, engage key stakeholders and communities, and provide an inclusive platform to discuss some of the key themes that will be addressed at WTDC-21. It focuses on six enablers of connectivity for sustainable development: partnerships, inclusion, financing, leadership, innovation, and youth.

The next Road to Addis event, focused on financing, takes place on 28 April, with the series set to culminate in September, when outcomes are presented at the United Nations General Assembly.

To engage with ITU and contribute to the impact of WTDC-21, contact us here.

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