Inherent gender inequality and unequal internet connectivity are some of the reasons women and girls in Africa remain under-represented in the fields of science and technology, according to panelists at the African Girls Can Code Initiative (AGCCI) side event at the 53rd session of the Economic Commission for African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development in Addis Ababa.

Jean-Paul Adam, the Director for Technology, Climate Change and Natural Resources Management at the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), speaking at the side event, said although the percentage of women in the labor force on the continent had over the years gradually increased, it remained significantly lower in the technology sector.

“Women’s lack equal connectivity is undermining their capacity to reach their economic potential. A situation that urgently needs to be addressed,” said Mr. Adam.

“Girls face discrimination in the sector, because computer science has always been seen as a course for boys, not girls.”

AGCCI is a program being implemented by UN Women in collaboration with the African Union, the ECA and the International Telecommunication Union. The four-year programme, initiated in 2018, is designed to equip young girls with digital literacy, coding, and personal development skills.

Girls are trained as programmers, creators, and designers, placing them on-track to take up education and careers in ICT and coding.

Letty Chiwara, UN Women Representative to Ethiopia, the Africa Union Commission (AUC) and the ECA, said boosting women’s digital literacy today would have far-reaching inter-generational implications.

“Women are uniquely suited to prepare younger generations to participate in the digital economy, a reason why governments should empower more women in the fields of science and technology,” she said.

Cisse Mohamed, Director of Social Affairs at the AUC, said while women and girls were encouraged to take up technology, there was no conducive environment for them to do so.

“African governments should create computer literacy programs, targeting women from rural areas, in particular. Improving access to information and communications technologies, especially Internet-enabled mobile phones, would go a long way toward supporting these efforts,” said Ms. Mohamed, adding that data safety and protection was important in this digital era.

Andrew Rugege, ITU Regional Director for Africa, said COVID-19 was a health hazard but had shown the continent the importance of ICT.

“More than half of our women and youth are not connected on the internet. There is need to close the gender gap by increasing the mobile ownership and access to internet by women and youth,” said Mr. Rugege.

“Young girls should be trained on ICT programs rather than just being consumers of the innovations.”

Hendrina Doroba, Division Manager, Education, Human Capital and Employment at the African Development Bank Group (AfDB), said girls who have participated in the Africa Girls Can Code Initiative camps, already had what it takes to convince governments to incorporate ICT into the education curriculum.

“We need to engage policymakers at the country level, to push for inclusion of ICT in education curriculum in all the countries in Africa,” said Ms. Doroba, adding that the AfDB had created initiatives of expanding infrastructure on digital learning in various countries, including Kenya, Rwanda, Cote d’Ivoire, and Senegal.

The first group of girls who won the “we can code initiative” competition from Senegal, Tanzania and South Africa presented their programming projects on robotics and animation at the side event.

The African Girls Can Code Initiative is expected to reach more than 2,000 girls through 18 Coding Camps (2 international, 12 regional and 4 in Ethiopia) by 2022.

In September 2018, the programme brought together 88 girls aged 17-20 from 32 African countries at the first coding camp. By 2022, 14 coding camps will be organized to take the programme to more than 2,000 girls across Africa.

It was announced at the side event that the next hybrid camps will be held in Cameroon and Congo.


This article is based on my opening remarks at the UN Leadership Contact Group on 18 March, where I joined Professor Jeffrey Sachs and members of The Lancet COVID-19 Commission to discuss how UN agencies could help address the wide-ranging challenges of the pandemic.

Digital technologies and services have proved essential since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. We owe this in large part to the two phases of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), organized in 2003 and 2005 by ITU on behalf of the UN family, which laid out the foundations for the remarkable development of information and communication technology (ICT) that we have witnessed over the past two decades.

As the United Nations specialized agency for ICTs, ITU has the responsibility to bring these technologies to all, including the 3.7 billion people who are still unconnected across the world. Looking beyond today’s health crisis, we aim to harness the digital revolution to build the world back better in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

ITU’s response

Early in the crisis, when demand for broadband communication services soared almost overnight last March, ITU leveraged its regulatory and policy-maker platform to help countries and industry cope with this unprecedented surge. We created the Global Network Resiliency Platform (REG4COVID), which has helped regulators, policy-makers and stakeholders from all over the world respond to and cope with the impact of COVID-19 on global connectivity.

While the world’s ICT infrastructure has proven remarkably resilient, it is not something we should take for granted.

Imagine how much worse the situation might have been without the ICT development undertaken over the last 20 years.

ITU’s response has brought together our Members and partners, including many sister UN agencies. Together, we are working in areas as diverse and critical as digital finance, e-education, e-health, e-government, and teleworking. We have launched new guidelines on emergency telecommunications, child online protection, and on making digital information, services, and products accessible to all people. We have also built on partnerships such as the ITU-WHO Focus Group on Artificial Intelligence for Health, the ITU-UNICEF Giga initiative to connect every school to the Internet, and the ITU-ILO initiative to boost decent jobs and enhance digital skills for youth in Africa’s digital economy.

A new strategy

My vision going forward is based on four pillars, or “4 I’s”: Infrastructure, Investment, Innovation and Inclusiveness.

Up to now, the investment in ICT everywhere has mainly been made by the private sector. But what happens in areas that generate no or little return on investment?
The UN Secretary-General has called for universal connectivity with affordable services by 2030. It is a formidable challenge, one that will require a new strategy – especially for digital infrastructure investments in underserved areas, where we need innovative ideas to attract investment and use investment more efficiently.

In this context, for example, ITU has partnered with the Governments of Japan and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to launch Connect2Recover, an initiative that will help countries recover from COVID-19 by expanding access to affordable and reliable connectivity.

Connectivity is a challenge affecting all nations. It requires the broadest possible cooperation and solidarity.

Recovery efforts need to be built on new regulatory and policy frameworks that embrace collaborative participation, with a new whole-of-government investment strategy at their centre. When ICT investments are fragmented among different ecosystems and not well coordinated within the same country, we risk causing capacity inefficiencies and resource shortfalls at precisely the time when more investments in ICTs are needed.

I have stressed the importance of the “4 I’s” at major global venues with world leaders since the start of the crisis, and I also count on the Lancet COVID-19 Commission and the UN Leadership Contact Group to help move these efforts forward.

Improving inclusion

COVID-19 has stalled or reversed many of the development gains that were achieved pre-pandemic. It has undermined progress on global sustainable development and has changed everything, not least the way we work at the UN and beyond. As the ICT leader in the UN family, ITU has adapted key tools and processes to bring our events and meetings fully online.

Despite the challenging environment, ITU events and meetings have become more inclusive than ever.

Still, much remains to be done.

Building back better means, above all, leaving no one offline. All of us at the forefront of digitization need to collaborate in the decisive weeks and months to come. As we respond to COVID-19, we must also look beyond it. Together, we need to connect the unconnected and drive the development of the new technologies – from artificial intelligence to 5G mobile infrastructure – that are central to digital health and the digital economy.


The WCO Council adopted the final documents missing from the WCO E-Commerce Package at its December 2020 Session. The documents are three Annexes to the Framework of Standards on Cross-Border E-Commerce Technical Specifications entitled “Reference Datasets for Cross-Border E-Commerce”, “Revenue Collection Approaches”, and “E-Commerce Stakeholders: Roles and Responsibilities”.


The document on “Reference Datasets for Cross-Border E-Commerce” provides examples of datasets which Customs administrations are currently collecting, either as part of a pilot project or when implementing the Framework, to effectively track, target and identify small e-commerce shipments.

The “Revenue Collection Approaches” document describes and aims to provide a better understanding of existing revenue collection models.

The document on “E-Commerce Stakeholders: Roles and Responsibilities” provides a clear description of the roles and responsibilities of various e-commerce stakeholders to ensure transparent and predictable cross-border movement of goods. It does not place any additional obligations on stakeholders.

The WCO Council also endorsed the E-Commerce Framework of Standards update/maintenance mechanism, and the first edition of the Compendium of Case Studies on E-Commerce which includes 17 case studies offering practical examples of how Customs administrations address priority issues, such as exchange of advance electronic data, facilitation, safety, security and revenue collection (including de minimis levels).

Finally, the Council took note of the capacity building activities conducted by the Secretariat and of the key performance indicators which had been released in Spring 2020 and which will enable Customs administrations to assess their own level of implementation of the Framework.

More information


The Universal Postal Union (UPU) has launched a new Address Verification Application Programme Interface (API) developed specifically for the postal industry and its stakeholders to ensure address data quality for trusted deliveries.


It is an easy and ready-to-incorporate solution to acquire address data at the point-of-address input and to check address data against the UPU’s worldwide POST*CODE DataBase.

The API is the result of the hard work of the UPU’s Postal Operations Directorate’s Addressing Solutions department. “In addition to checking address components against the POST*CODE DataBase, it also checks against derivative databases, such as postal addressing systems, the standardized address format description and knowledge center information, such as postcode length and postcode format,” explains Luc Hauss, Addressing Solutions manager.

The POST*CODE DataBase, which includes information from 192 member countries and 38 territories, is updated quarterly and updates are dispatched to the UPU’s licensees via a file transfer protocol platform.

The Address Verification API complements the UPU’s existing application programming interfaces, which are currently available for international address input and international address verification at postcode and locality level or both. “Twenty years of expertise have gone into developing UPU’s APIs, which incorporate the comprehensive ‘must have’ postal address file reference data,” Hauss adds.

The API uses the knowledge acquired through the development of the UPU’s S42 international postal address components and templates standard (the ISO 19160-4). “S42, which was developed with experts from the Postal Operations Council and its Addressing Group, comprises a generic list of address elements used in the UPU member countries, and a package of country-specific templates telling users how to transform address elements into an accurately formatted address,” explains Piotr Piotrowski, manager of Addressing Standards, IT and Data Products, UPU.

“In other words, a country defining its S42 templates provides precise information about its address elements and formats. This can then be incorporated into software programs to manage addresses,” Piotrowski adds.

According to Hauss, the development of the new API is a prime example of the continuation of the UPU’s Addressing Solutions activities to serve the postal sector, customers and all postal partners. “With the UPU’s current postal reference data, our users – the top 1,000 businesses worldwide, including leading software providers – will find a ready-to-use complementary solution to enhance their current services. They can access our new API or incorporate our existing API tools as a library. Furthermore, our one-stop address also remains at their service,” he explains.


New program will equip fellows with technology and policymaking skills vital to building, promoting and defending an open Internet.

Applications for 15 places open 22 March 2021

The Internet Society, the global non-profit organisation that promotes an open and secure global Internet, has launched a new fellowship program to develop a new generation of Internet champions.

The Internet Society’s Early Career Fellowship is designed to empower a new, diverse generation of Internet champions who will bridge the gap between technology and policy, and become advocates for an open, globally connected, secure and trustworthy Internet.

The Early Career Fellowship is open to people who are beginning their careers in an Internet-related field and who have ideas for projects that would grow or strengthen the Internet.

Over five months, Early Career Fellows will meet and learn from Internet luminaries, build professional networks, and take part in bespoke courses developed in partnership with leading universities, including the Oxford Internet Institute (OII). They will learn about Internet policy, technology, project management and advocacy.

Applications for the initial group of fellows open on 22 March and close on 11 April. The fifteen initial fellows will be chosen by the Internet Society Fellowship Selection Committee.

“The coronavirus pandemic has shown how vital the Internet is to billions of people around the world, allowing them to continue to work and study from home, communicate with friends and family, and access healthcare. But there are threats to the fundamental principles that underpinned its creation and development. This fellowship will create a new generation of advocates to respond to the challenges facing the future of the Internet,” explains Constance Bommelaer de Leusse, Area Vice President, Institutional Relations and Fellowships for the Internet Society.

The Early Career Fellowship builds on the Internet Society’s previous leadership programs, including the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) Youth Ambassadors Program.

Lily Edinam Botsyoe, an Internet Society fellowship alum from Ghana said that the Internet Society’s program has made a huge difference for her: “I learned about Internet governance, participated in discussions on cybersecurity, youth inclusion, and advocacy around diverse Internet issues which has set me on the career path I am currently pursuing in technology policy.”

She continued: “The Early Career Fellowship will be important because it bridges the gap between technical expertise and policy research. Though the fields are different neither of the two can work without the other in the ever-changing world of technology.”

Full details of the application process and the eligibility criteria can be found on the Internet Society website.

About the Internet Society

Founded in 1992 by Internet pioneers, the Internet Society (ISOC) is a global non-profit organization working to ensure the Internet remains a force for good for everyone. Through its community of members, special interest groups, and 120+ chapters around the world, the organization defends and promotes Internet policies, standards, and protocols that keep the Internet open, globally connected, and secure. For more information, please visit:

About the Early Career Fellowship

The Fellowship is open to people with an undergraduate/vocational degree and at least two years of work experience in an Internet-related field; OR at least four years of working experience in an Internet-related field.

Candidates must be early career professionals working in the Internet ecosystem in a technical, policy, economic or social capacity who have initiated or would like to initiate a specific project designed to grow and/or strengthen the Internet.

It is designed for those working, or aiming to work, in fields such as (but not limited to): ​

  • Internet infrastructure/telecommunications companies;
  • Government agency/department on policy issues related to technology;
  • Internet services companies;
  • Technology-related associations;
  • Non-profit/civil society organizations;
  • Academic institutions as a researcher or teacher/professor;
  • Journalism agencies writing about the Internet;
  • Internet-related start-ups;
  • International organizations on information society, the platform economy, data privacy;
  • VC firms that invest in new technologies; and
  • Technical Internet-related engineering projects, such as a community network or IXP.

At a meeting on e-commerce negotiations on 16 March, co-convenor George Mina (Australia) reminded participating members of their target to deliver “clean” text on ten areas of the negotiations before the summer break. This, he said, will help keep the initiative on track to meet the expectations of its stakeholders. Ambassador Mina said the co-conveners were heartened by the progress made so far in small group discussions and urged members to continue to show a spirit of compromise to help achieve progress.

In his introductory remarks, Ambassador Mina said that the initiative has not yet made firm conclusions about the legal path it will follow into the WTO framework but co-convenors are confident these pathways can be found. Members intend to work in further detail on the question of legal structure and pathways before the summer break, he said.

Reports from small group discussions

The facilitators of small group discussions reported on the work undertaken in the last few weeks to bridge differences on text proposals covering online consumer protection, paperless trading, open government data, source code and open internet access.

In addition, the facilitator of the group on electronic signatures and authentication reported that a clean text on this topic is within reach soon. The facilitators of the small group discussions said that their groups remain open and encouraged participation from all members. A proposal on the Information Technology Agreement was also reintroduced to members.

Digital trade facilitation and logistics

Participating members had detailed discussion on the theme of “digital trade facilitation and logistics”, which forms part of the consolidated text shared with members in December 2020.

The discussions covered eight subthemes which members did not have the chance to discuss in small group format last year. These themes include: de minimis (a threshold for low value goods below which customs duties or taxes will not be collected), customs procedures, improvements to trade policies, single windows data exchange and system interoperability (i.e developing and modernizing national single windows by using  information technology to further facilitate trade in traditional and digital form), logistics services, enhanced trade facilitation, use of technology for the release and clearance of goods, and provision of trade facilitating and supportive services.

Ahead of the discussion on digital trade facilitation and logistics, Hung Seng Tan (Singapore) as co-convener shared some guiding principles on the broader theme of trade facilitation under the joint initiative on e-commerce.

Ambassador Tan said that members should keep up the ambition in the talks and ensure the initiative remains commercially meaningful to stakeholders by making sure the agreement addresses new realities and modern business needs. He stressed that provisions or proposals on the table under the trade facilitation theme should be ambitious and at the same time attract broad support from the membership.

Ambassador Tan hoped that the “deep dive” in trade facilitation will be productive and deepen members’ understanding of the topic. He said: “With MC12 less than nine months away, let us build incremental progress and build confidence to address more complex issues in the negotiations.”

Co-convenor Kazuyuki Yamazaki (Japan) said in his concluding remarks that the initiative needs to address market access issues in order to achieve a high standard outcome. He stressed that the initiative should continue to give attention to developing countries which are facing challenges related to capacity building and the digital divide.

He noted that by concluding the work of some of the small group discussion, the initiative will be able to free up resources to tackle more challenging topics.


From my young age, I have always had a dream of becoming self-employed. After my studies I worked in the IT domain for a couple of years and got the opportunity to work in the e-commerce sector. I discovered my passion for the industry when the company I was working for closed its doors while I was just starting to witness firsthand the impact it was creating in the Rwandan society. I then realized that this was the opportunity for me to start my own business, contributing my expertise and experiences to offer Rwandans an opportunity to continue shopping and selling online at the same time promoting our locally manufactured products (Made in Rwanda).

-Tadhim Uwizeye, CEO and Founder, OLADO


Tadhim Uwizeye is a Rwandan e-commerce business development professional with an academic background in computer science and information systems management. Her ten years of experience in the information and technology services focused on entrepreneurship and e-commerce. She is the founder and CEO of Olado Business Group, an e-commerce enterprise that she co-founded in 2017 with a mission to change and make the Rwandan shopping experience easier through e-commerce.


Despite the challenges posed by the infancy of the sector in Rwanda, Tadhim is optimistic about the development and adoption of e-commerce in the country.

‘Starting an e-commerce platform in Rwanda as a startup was itself a challenge. E-commerce was really in its infancy; it was new, and few people knew what it was. We were really the first movers. That comes with a lot of challenges — convincing people to adopt a new way of shopping and selling, having the trust in the safety of their identifications and more —. We had to do both marketing and education, but it took off in the end. Person to person selling is much more difficult,’ she emphasizes. The industry is becoming so promising, and it is encouraging to have so much customers excitement about our service and to see the growth.

Tadhim’s online marketplace displays various products for sale from Made in Rwanda products to imported products in different categories: Agro-processed food, fashion, electronics, household appliances, sports equipment, among others. Olado offers different payment options and delivery services to its users in Rwanda and abroad.

As part of its COVID-19 response and recovery plan, and in alignment with the Inclusive Digital Economies strategy, UNCDF Rwanda partnered with the Ministry of ICT and Innovation and ICT Chamber to pilot a project that aims to support Rwanda MSMEs to increase their revenues through their presence on digital marketplaces with a focus on women-run businesses.

“The project is a COVID-19 recovery response, with an aim of supporting Macro Small and Medium Entreprises (MSMEs) to do their business digitally, especially after the lockdown period when only digitally runned businesses could operate. The project supports MSMEs to manage the crisis by helping them access a broader market within and outside the country. In addition, the project’s findings will contribute to the development of the e-commerce policy in Rwanda,” said Roselyne Uwamahoro, UNCDF Rwanda Program Coordinator.

Thadhim’s business, Olado, is one of the 25 e-commerce platforms that the project aims to strengthen. In a 12-month period, the project will also enable the digital onboarding of 1,000 MSMEs operating in different sectors while linking them with financing opportunities. It will also train 1,000 iWorkers (e-marketplace facilitators) and dispatch them to the field to train MSMEs on the usage of e-commerce platform.

“Being supported by the project has pushed us ahead. We are trained on the basics of building a successful business but more importantly we are given access to a network of other startups whom we could exchange ideas. we were able to secure basic support from different partners who appreciated our initiative, and we are now a recognized e-commerce platform, with promising opportunities ahead,” noted Tadhim.

For more on the inclusive digital economies strategy at UNCDF On International Women’s Day, March 8th 2021, a high-level coalition united to launch a bold call to action for “Reaching Financial Equality for Women”. The partners behind it are the UN-based Better than Cash Alliance, the United Nations Capital Development Fund, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development, UN Women, Women’s World Banking and the World Bank.

The 10 actions for governments and companies to rebuild stronger after COVID-19 are:

  1. Digitize private sector payments
  2. Digitize payments of government social benefits
  3. Outlaw discrimination against women
  4. Ensure universal access to identification
  5. End the gender gap in mobile phone ownership
  6. Hire women at banks and mobile network operators
  7. Collect, analyze and use sex-disaggregated data
  8. Design appropriate and affordable financial products for women
  9. Help women benefit from e-commerce opportunities
  10. Create and enforce strong digital finance consumer protection mechanisms

For more details on the 10 Actions click here



In years to come, we will look back at 2020 as the moment that changed everything. Nowhere else has unprecedented and unforeseen growth occurred as in the digital and e-commerce sectors, which have boomed amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Amid slowing economic activity, COVID-19 has led to a surge in e-commerce and accelerated digital transformation.

As lockdowns became the new normal, businesses and consumers increasingly “went digital”, providing and purchasing more goods and services online, raising e-commerce’s share of global retail trade from 14% in 2019 to about 17% in 2020.

These and other findings are showcased in a new report, COVID-19 and E-Commerce: A Global Review, by UNCTAD and eTrade for all partners, reflecting on the powerful global and regional industry transformations recorded throughout 2020.

At an event to release the report, UN General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir said the trend towards e-commerce is likely to continue throughout the recovery from COVID-19.

“We need to recognize the challenges and take steps to support governments and citizens as they continue to embrace new ways of working,” he said.

UNCTAD Acting Secretary-General Isabelle Durant said: “Businesses and consumers that were able to ‘go digital’ have helped mitigate the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.”

“But they have also sped up a digital transition that will have lasting impacts on our societies and daily lives – for which not everyone is prepared,” she said, adding: “Developing countries should not only be consumers but also active players and thus producers of the digital economy.”

Some benefit, others fall behind

The findings show the strong uptake of e-commerce across regions, with consumers in emerging economies making the greatest shift to online shopping.

Latin America’s online marketplace Mercado Libre, for example, sold twice as many items per day in the second quarter of 2020 compared with the same period the previous year. And African e-commerce platform Jumia reported a 50% jump in transactions during the first six months of 2020.

China’s online share of retail sales rose from 19.4% to 24.6% between August 2019 and August 2020. In Kazakhstan, the online share of retail sales increased from 5% in 2019 to 9.4% in 2020.

Thailand saw downloads of shopping apps jump 60% in just one week during March 2020.

The trend towards e-commerce uptake seen in 2020 is likely to be sustained during recovery, the report says.

But in many of the world’s least developed countries, consumers and businesses haven’t capitalized on pandemic-induced e-commerce opportunities due to persistent barriers.

These include costly broadband services, overreliance on cash, lack of consumers’ trust, poor digital skills among the population and governments’ limited attention to e-commerce.

“Countries that harness the potential of e-commerce will be better placed to benefit from global markets for their goods and services in this digitalizing economy, while those that fail to do so risk falling behind even further,” said Shamika N. Sirimanne, UNCTAD’s technology and logistics director.

One of the challenges, the report says, is that the pandemic has mostly benefited the world’s leading digital platforms.

Many solutions being used for e-commerce, teleworking and cloud computing are provided by a relatively small number of large companies, based mainly in China and the United States.

Smaller players may have gained a deeper foothold, but their market presence is still dwarfed by the digital giants, which could entrench their predominant role during the pandemic.

“The risk is that the huge digital divides that already existed between and within countries will only worsen in the wake of the pandemic,” said Torbjörn Fredriksson, UNCTAD’s digital economy head.

“The result will be even deeper inequalities that would threaten to derail progress on the UN Sustainable Development Goals,” he added.

Government responses

Most governments prioritized short-term responses to the pandemic, but some have also begun to address longer-term strategic requirements for recovery. Several governments in developing countries have intervened to protect businesses and individual incomes.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, for example, Costa Rica’s government initiated a platform for businesses without an online presence, and a smartphone app and texting service to facilitate trade among producers of agricultural, meat and fish products.

In Africa, Senegal ran an information, education and awareness campaign on the benefits of e-commerce across all segments of the population.

In Asia, Indonesia launched a capacity-building programme to expedite digitization and digitalization among micro, small, and medium enterprises.

Action points for inclusive e-commerce

The report maps out actions that should be taken by three stakeholder groups to ensure more inclusive benefits from e-commerce.

It says governments need to prioritize national digital readiness so that more local businesses can become producers in the digital economy, not just consumers.

According to the report, building an enabling e-commerce ecosystem requires changes in public policy and business practices to improve the digital and trading infrastructure, facilitate digital payments and establish appropriate legal and regulatory frameworks for online transactions and security.

“The approach must be holistic. Policies should not be made in silos,” said Ms. Sirimanne.

Then, to capture value from digital trade, digital entrepreneurship must become a central focus.

This requires faster digitalization for smaller businesses and more attention to digital entrepreneurship, including reskilling, especially of women.

Countries also need better capabilities to capture and harness data, and stronger regulatory frameworks for creating and capturing value in the digital economy, the report says.

Lastly, the international community needs to find new, bold and smart ways to work with governments and the private sector to leverage these opportunities.

“The digital divide, which was real long before COVID-19, is a challenge which can be removed through our collective efforts and international support,” Mr. Bozkir added. “E-commerce offers immense potential across the SDGs. Efforts, therefore, must be made to harness this rapidly emerging tool.”

To support UN-wide work on the topic, Mr. Bozkir announced a one-day high-level thematic debate on digital cooperation and connectivity on 27 April 2021.

This will provide a platform for high-level political statements of intent and support, and frank exchanges among UN entities, technology leaders, constituents and stakeholders, to build momentum and mobilize the international community to strengthen existing multi-stakeholder initiatives and partnerships, and support the creation of additional partnerships to accelerate implementation..

Charting the future of e-commerce

Better dialogue and collaboration are needed to identify new pathways for the digital economy.

The UNCTAD-led eTrade for all initiative, currently funded by the Netherlands, Germany and Estonia, is one such platform for doing so.

Over the past four years, the initiative has served as a global helpdesk for developing countries to bridge the knowledge gap on e-commerce information and resources, and catalyse partnership among its partners.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, more than 30 eTrade for all partners have worked together to raise awareness on the e-commerce opportunities and risks emerging during the crisis.

They have also identified ways in which businesses in developing and least developed countries could overcome the challenges.

The COVID-19 repository launched in the fall of 2020 and the new COVID-19 and e-commerce report are the initiative’s latest collective efforts to build a sustainable digital future.


In 2020, global trade faced headwinds mainly caused by the COVID-19-related economic standstill. In September 2020, the WIPO Global Innovation Index noted the risk of a potentially sharp downward impact of the pandemic crisis on technology-related investment and trade.


But as our new estimates show, 2020 trade in high-tech goods outperformed goods trade, thanks to a boom in communications, computing, processing and data storage equipment geared toward remote and mobile work. In addition, this trend is continuing in early 2021.

Thanks to a strong second half following a difficult spring, total high-tech trade is expected to decline only about 1% as compared to 2019 and to USD3.36 trillion in 2020, according to a projection by Trade Data Monitor.

By comparison, total merchandise trade fell by 9.2% to USD17.1 trillion in 2020 from USD18.9 trillion in 2019, as the global economy slowed down, especially the transport and construction sectors.

World Total Exports & High-Tech Exports

At its root, the resilience of 2020 tech trade was driven by broad changes in consumer behavior in the world’s top economies. Overall, high-tech trade mirrored trends in other goods, shaped by more people working from home. For that reason, trade in shoes, luggage and petroleum suffered while shipments of furniture, exercise equipment, and toys rebounded quickly in 2020.

The United States of America (U.S.), for example, increased imports of tablets and laptops 20.9% to USD45.2 billion in the first 11 months of 2020. The U.S. ramped up imports of solid-state semiconductor storage devices, used for cloud computing, 38.4% to USD12.3 billon.

China was the world’s top exporter of high-tech goods in the first 10 months of 2020, followed by the European Union (EU) (USD316.1 billion), U.S. (USD207.4 billion), and the Republic of Korea (USD137.8 billion).

Top High-Tech Exporters

Businesses adjusted to working through COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic which ravaged the world in 2020 damaged high-tech supply chains in the spring by forcing factory closures, slowing down shipping lines and hurting consumer demand. It looked like global business was facing an existential threat.

As the year went on, however, manufacturers and logistics managers figured out how make their businesses work. Sales rebounded in the summer and autumn as demand picked up, also thanks to robust sales of work-from-home technology.

In March, exports by the world’s top high-tech manufacturer, China, sank to USD54.5 billion, down 8.1% from USD59.3 billion in March of 2019. Shipments to the U.S. from China fell 21.7% to USD7.5 billion in March. The collapse was across the board: In March, exports of phones decreased 7.8% to USD8.4 billion, data processing machines down 14.3% to USD6.9 billion, and routers minus 12.9% to USD3.2 billion.

Then China was the first country to absorb the impact of COVID-19 and to drive high-tech exports up again.

High-Tech Exports from China, European Union, U.S. and Japan

COVID-19 accelerates China’s rise

By April, Chinese high-tech exports had increased 10.1% year-on-year to USD59.7 billion. The momentum continued: In November, Chinese high-tech exports increased a strong 21.1% year-on-year to USD86.1 billion further cementing its high-tech trade lead

In 2000, the U.S. was the world’s number one tech exporter, shipping out USD156.9 billion. China was far down, in eighth place at USD31.9 billion. By 2010, China was tops in the world, with USD472.6 billion of exports.

In 2020, China’s high-tech trade exports are expected to amount to USD733.4 billion, up 2.3% from USD716.6 billion in 2019, and more than 20 times the value of its shipments in 2000, USD31.9 billion.

China’s top high-tech export categories in the first 11 months of 2020 were phones (USD111.7 billion), data processing machines (USD102.7 billion), integrated circuits (USD50.3 billion), routers (USD43.1 billion), and phone parts and technology (USD40.2 billion).

China's Top High-Tech Exports

U.S. consumers drive demand for high-tech goods

The U.S. is the world’s second largest import of high-tech goods, after only China, which imports large amounts of parts for supply chains. In 2019, the U.S. imported USD505.2 billion of high-tech goods, up from USD473.5 billion in 2018.

U.S. demand was damaged by the coronavirus pandemic. In April, U.S. imports declined 9.7% month-on-month to USD36 billion from USD39.8 billion in April 2019. But buying picked up during the rest of the year: In the first 11 months of 2020, it imported USD457.3 billion, up 0.1% year-on-year.

Trade data from 2020 suggests that U.S. buyers are changing where they source high-tech gear. Over the first 11 months, imports from China fell 3.6% to USD126.5 billion, while those from Viet Nam increased 24.1% to USD24.7 billion, and those from the Republic of Korea rose 9% to USD18.2 billion.

Viet Nam leads rise of other Asian countries

Next to China, and due to various factors, other Asian countries are gaining ground as key sources of manufactured technology goods, a trend that should continue in 2021. The trend has benefited Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and the Republic of Korea, but the real beneficiary of this Asian renaissance is Viet Nam.

In the first 11 months of 2020, China imported USD36.8 billion of high-tech goods from Viet Nam, up 35.4% from the same period of 2019, including billions of sales in phones, routers, processors, circuits and semiconductors.

Overall, Viet Nam trading partners reported importing USD95.7 billion of high-tech goods in the first nine months of 2020, up from USD70.5 billion in 2016.

Outlook for 2021

The World Trade Organization has predicted a 7.2% rebound in global trade in 2021. Based on the surge in the second half of 2020, it is estimated that global high-tech trade will again keep pace with or outperform overall goods trade in 2021.

About Trade Data Monitor

Based in Geneva, Switzerland and Charleston, South Carolina, Trade Data Monitor specializes in providing data for economic and development research conducted by organizations such as the WTO, the FAO, and the WIPO Global Innovation Index. TDM procures data from national governments around the world, and assembles it, monthly instead of annually, in easy-to-read charts and interfaces. Governments, international organizations, and private companies use TDM to keep track of market trends by accessing accurate timely imports and exports statistics for over a hundred countries. Consistently, TDM revises and adjusts data to ensure its accuracy, double checking it with customs data.


The Air Navigation Commission shares this series of engaging ANC discussions that bring industry and aviation stakeholders together to discuss different aspects of aviation.

There isn’t an industry around the world that hasn’t been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Travel restrictions and shutdowns will have a profound and lingering effect on air transport; the challenges with moving goods, and ensuring the health of passengers, called for continued relief measures. With so many different aspects to consider – public health-related measures, facilitation and aviation security, aviation safety (e.g. management of temporary regulatory alleviations), risk management, and air transport and economics – ICAO took a coordinated response to support Member States in the recovery phase of the COVID-19 panic. This industry is resilient.

In this edition of the ANC Talks series, ICAO’s ICAO Technical Cooperation Bureau (TCB), together with the Air Navigation Bureau (ANB) and Air Transport Bureau (ATB), provided a presentation on the development, deployment and impact of ICAO Implementation Packages (iPacks). Mr. Jorge Vargas, Director of TCB, opened the session, with presentations made by Mr. Marco Merens, Chief, Implementation Support (ANB) and Mr. Mekki Lahlou, Head, Training Operations, Global Aviation Training (TCB).

These presentations were followed by testimonials from senior officials of Civil Aviation Authorities: Ms. Tracey Forde-Bailey, Director of Civil Aviation, Barbados Civil Aviation Department; Mr. Nari Williams-Singh, Director General, Civil Aviation Authority of Jamaica; and Mr. Rajan Pokhrel, Director General, Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (Nepal). It was closed by Mr. Stephen P. Creamer, Director of ANB and Mr. Mohamed Rahma, Director of ATB. The session was moderated by Mr. Nabil Naoumi, the President of the Air Navigation Commission.

Technical Cooperation Bureau

ICAO’s Technical Cooperation Programme provides advice and assistance in the development and implementation of projects across the full spectrum of civil aviation, to support States in the implementation of ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs). Their efforts are focused on the safety, security, environmental protection and sustainable development of national and international civil aviation. The Programme is conducted under the broad policy guidance of the ICAO Assembly and the Council. As part of ICAO, a non-profit organization, TCB offers services under the most favorable and cost-effective condition and guarantees strict neutrality, objectivity and transparency, since it does not represent any particular national or commercial interest, nor the interest of any donor in general. Its advice is, therefore, governed by objective technical and financial considerations. To date, TCB has assisted in over 115 States and deploys approximately 1200 international and national experts every year.

Air Navigation Bureau

The Air Navigation Bureau manages the Safety and Air Navigation Capacity and Efficiency strategies of ICAO in a partnership with aviation stakeholders. This work is carried out within a framework with the following elements:

  1. Policy and Standardization,
  2. Safety and Infrastructure Monitoring,
  3. Safety and Infrastructure Analysis, and
  4. Safety and Infrastructure Implementation.

This Bureau leads ICAO’s crisis and contingency efforts.

Air Transport Bureau

The Air Transport Bureau supports the implementation of the Strategic Objectives of ICAO in particular, Security and Facilitation; Economic Development of Air Transport; and Environmental Protection. This Bureau also contributes towards Safety. The Bureau works under the direction of the Council, Air Transport Committee, the Committee on Unlawful Interference and the Committee on Joint Support of Air Navigation Services. Secretariat support is provided to the Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (CAEP), which is a Committee of Council.

What is an Implementation Package (iPack)?

In light of the unprecedented impact, COVID-19 is inflicting on the air transport industry, ICAO’s coordinated response in supporting the Member States in their implementation efforts regarding recovery and preparedness for a Public Health Event of International Concern (PHEIC) is critical.

An iPack is a bundle of standardized guidance material, training, tools and expert support which aim to facilitate and guide the implementation of ICAO provisions for State entities (e.g. Governments, Civil Aviation Authorities, National Air Transport Facilitation Committees), aviation service providers, supply chain stakeholders and their personnel.


iPacks, in essence, represent the support that would have been typically provided to the Member States by the physical deployment of ICAO experts. These services are funded by donor States and Organizations and are also available to be acquired by States. Nepal was one of the first States to be identified as a priority State by the ICAO Bangkok Regional Office and supported by  ICAO Headquarters. This support addresses their needs as they cope with the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

iPacks are developed and implemented in full alignment with the measures and recommendations contained in the Council Aviation Recovery Task Force (CART) Report and are a key element for their implementation.

The impact of iPacks

ICAO’s role in supporting Member States in their efforts to implement relevant SARPs and up-to-date guidance material is paramount. As such, iPacks are intended to:

  • ensure States’ COVID-19 implementation activities are aligned with the measures and recommendations contained in the CART Report and the most up-to-date ICAO provisions leading them to enhance their safety, air navigation, aviation security/facilitation, or economic development actions most seamlessly and efficiently and are in line with international and national requirements and guidance related to public health;
  • ensure States’ COVID-19 implementation activities, although flexible, facilitate mutual acceptance by other States; and
  • support States in their aviation re-start, recovery, and resilience efforts and their re-engagement with their aviation industry.

Further information on iPacks can be accessed here.  Regional Offices are also available to assist with the identification and deployment of relevant iPacks to Member States.


Subscribe to our Newsletter
Contact Us