News

UNCTAD

Countries are urged to step up efforts to safeguard consumers’ health, safety and economic interests amid the pandemic.

 

As the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on consumers’ lives intensifies, so does the need for international cooperation to protect them.

Consumers have faced a shortage of essential goods and services, hoarding, new forms of misleading advertisements and other deceptive commercial practices seeking undue advantages in these challenging times, all in a ubiquitous digital environment.

Consumers’ health, safety and economic interests are ever more at risk. Stakeholders focused on how best to safeguard them as the world marked this year’s World Consumers Rights Day on 15 March.

“The COVID pandemic has highlighted the need for more international cooperation to better protect consumers, especially for product safety and for online purchases,” said UNCTAD Acting Secretary-General Isabelle Durant during the European Consumer Summit 2021 held online to mark the day.

UNCTAD’s World Consumer Protection Map shows that 60% of the countries that provided data for it have no experience in cross-border cooperation. When it happens, it’s mainly among developed countries.

Recent UNCTAD research identifies some of the hurdles that stand in the way: lack of applicable laws and jurisdiction for consumer relations, lack of legal powers by consumer protection agencies and language barriers.

Also, there are too few regional frameworks that specifically address cross-border cooperation, especially for developing countries.

Digital, safe and sustainable

“The global nature of the pandemic translates into global risks to consumer welfare. Cross-border and international cooperation is the only way to ensure we keep an open global economy in which consumers are protected,” said Pedro Siza Vieira, Portugal’s minister of state for the economy and digital transition.

Three substantive issues are at the core of international cooperation in consumer protection today: e-commerce, product safety and sustainable consumption.

An UNCTAD survey of consumers in nine countries, conducted in October 2020, found that around 50% of them shopped online more after COVID-19 broke out, with a similar increase in their other digital activities.

Consumers can access products from foreign providers online and are therefore prone to cross-border unfair commercial practices. The safety of consumer products therefore has an international dimension.

UNCTAD member states recently adopted a recommendation urging countries “to raise awareness among consumers on the risks to their physical safety posed by unsafe products, especially when engaging in cross-border online transactions.”

In recent years, sustainable consumption, key to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals, has grown in relevance in international discussions and consensus-building for policymaking.

Consumer protection is increasingly understood to be larger than protecting “shoppers’ rights” and considered to be critical to broader policymaking.

Time to step up action to protect consumers

“The common understanding now needs to be translated into decisive, stepped-up action to increase consumer protection, leaving no one behind,” said Teresa Moreira, UNCTAD’s head of competition and consumer policies.

“International trade still allows known unsafe products to be distributed across borders,” she said. Also, consumers are still missing a common minimum standard for effective online dispute resolution irrespective of their place of residence, she added.

Besides, laws are not yet effectively enforced against cross-border unfair commercial practices, and unsustainable consumption patterns are still widespread.

But efforts to better protect consumers are growing from strength to strength.

The European Union (EU) has just launched a new consumer agenda that includes a focus on consumer protection in the global context.

“The commission is committed to international cooperation on consumer protection,” said Didier Reynders, the EU’s commissioner for justice and consumers. “And this includes engaging with the United Nations to agree on new international standards.”

International cooperation in consumer protection is only feasible when effective national laws, policies and institutions are in place.

“The African Continental Free Trade Area is an ideal platform to protect African consumers at the regional level,” said Hussein Hassan, acting director of the department of trade and industry at the African Union. “We are eager to engage with other international partners to enhance our capacities.”

Technical cooperation to developing countries must remain a priority for all actors with a stake in consumer protection.

UNCDF

Since 2019, UNCDF has been implementing its Inclusive Digital Economies strategy in Burkina Faso through a series of projects.

 

Several initiatives and programmes have been launched thanks to the support of UNCDF partners. These initiatives include the PARI project “Programme to Support Resilience through Innovation” and the “Renewable Energy for Resilience Fund (FERR-BF)”, which are both supported by the Luxembourg Development Cooperation in Burkina Faso.

The PARI programme has enabled the arrangement of 38,654 members into savings groups, the mobilization of CFA franc 189,378,020 in informal savings, and the digitalization of transactions of almost 400 micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) among other things. On 16 February 2021, the UNCDF Burkina Faso team accompanied by the Regional Manager for Inclusive Digital Economies, Sabine Mensah, presented the results of the PARI programme at the office of the Government of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.

TELBA for MSMEs

TELBA is a new project that facilitates access to blended finance for MSMEs in the agricultural, forestry and renewable energy value chains. TELBA means “let us support them” in Mooré, a local language in Burkina Faso. This project is supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) with an amount of CFA franc 2.6 billion. The signing of the financing agreement took place in the presence of Mensah, who expressed her satisfaction at seeing this project take off. “This preparatory phase of the programme gives the opportunity to sit down with all the stakeholders of the financial ecosystem and see how to plan the programme for an optimal use of the guarantee mechanism that will be put in place to enable the financing of MSMEs,” said Mensah.

For inclusive digital transformation

Burkina Faso has already started its digital transformation journey and UNCDF wants to ensure that no Burkinabe is left behind. Between October 2020 and February 2021, UNCDF in collaboration with the Burkinabe authorities prepared the Inclusive Digital Economy Scorecard (IDES) report. Burkina Faso is among the first countries along with Uganda, Nepal and the Solomon Islands to have an IDES report. The report focuses on the state of the development of the digital economy in Burkina Faso. Based on four key pillars, namely policy and regulation, infrastructure, innovation, and skills, the report highlights the progress and constraints in the digital economy of Burkina Faso. Some key achievements include a positive regulatory environment and support for the private sector to further develop digital mass-market services in the telecommunication and financial sectors to strengthen the necessary infrastructure. However, efforts still need to be made on improving digital skills of the population, providing digital training and the development of fintechs and start-ups. Several recommendations were added in this regard.

Mensah, who was in Ouagadougou for the occasion, handed over the report to Hadja Fatimata Ouattara, Minister of Digital Economy and Postal Development in Burkina Faso, on 18 February 2021 during a meeting between UNCDF and the Burkinabe government. Ouattara assured that the country is on the right track for the digital transformation of its economy and will consider the various recommendations made.

This IDES report and the projects underway in Burkina Faso are part of the new global digital strategy of UNCDF. This strategy will enable a new dynamic in government initiatives on digital and financial inclusion. This new dynamic was part of the objective for Mensah’s visit to Burkina Faso from 15 February to 19 February 2021. During this visit, she reviewed with donors the UNCDF projects in Burkina Faso and met with private sector stakeholders involved in the implementation of these programmes in order to ensure that no one is left behind in the digital era.

DiPLO

Malawi revealed a five-year Digital Economy Strategy to improve connectivity by 2026. The strategy, which was designed by Malawi’s National Planning Commission (NPC) with support from local outlet ITWeb, intends to promote internet access from 14% to 80%. It further aims at providing affordable internet by cutting out taxes including the 10% excise duty on purchasing data and SMS tariffs and the 3.5% revenue tax for telecom providers imposed by the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA). The Malawi government further expressed its commitment to establish a special purpose vehicle (SPV) to set up a backbone network between Malawi’s capital Lilongwe and the city of Nacaroa in Mozambique.

WTO

Members continued discussions on the role of intellectual property amid a pandemic and how the WTO and other stakeholders can engage to ensure secure and rapid access to vaccines and other medical products needed to combat COVID-19. At a meeting of the Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) on 10-11 March 2021, members also considered the continued exemption of least-developed countries (LDCs) from TRIPS obligations and broadened their debate on the relation between IP and innovation to cover small business and green technologies.

 

Continuing their discussions held since October 2020, WTO members addressed the proposal (IP/C/W/669) submitted by South Africa and India calling for a waiver for all members of certain provisions of the TRIPS Agreement in relation to the “prevention, containment or treatment” of COVID-19. According to proponents, the objective is to avoid barriers to the timely access to affordable medical products, including vaccines and medicines, and to the scaling-up of manufacturing and supply of essential medical products.

The waiver would cover obligations in four sections of the TRIPS Agreement — Section 1 on copyright and related rights, Section 4 on industrial designs, Section 5 on patents and Section 7 on the protection of undisclosed information. It would last for a specific number of years, to be agreed by the General Council, and until widespread vaccination is in place globally and the majority of the world’s population is immune. Members would review the waiver annually until termination.

Since its submission, the proposal has been co-sponsored by Kenya, Eswatini, Mozambique, Pakistan, Bolivia, Venezuela, Mongolia, Zimbabwe, Egypt, the African Group and the LDCs Group.

At the previous meeting of the Council on 23 February, members agreed on an oral status report to the General Council reflecting the state of discussions and lack of consensus on the waiver request. The report indicated that the TRIPS Council had not yet completed its consideration of the waiver request and would therefore continue discussions and report back to the General Council.

Members reiterated their common goal of providing timely and secure access to high-quality, safe, efficacious and affordable vaccines and medicines for all, but continued to diverge on what role IP played in achieving that goal. Proponents argued that existing vaccine manufacturing capacities in the developing world remained unutilized because of IP barriers, and hence insufficient amounts of vaccines were being produced to end the pandemic. In their view, the waiver proposal represents an open and expedited global solution to allow uninterrupted collaboration in the production and supply of health products and technologies required for an effective COVID-19 response.

Citing the role of IP as an incentive for innovation to fight the current and future pandemics, and as underpinning the licensing, manufacturing, procurement and distribution of COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines, other delegations welcomed further engagement on the questions they had raised with regards to the proposal. They urged an evidence-based discussion on any concrete examples where IP would pose a barrier to manufacturing and access to vaccines that could not be addressed by existing TRIPS flexibilities.

The outgoing chair of the TRIPS Council, Ambassador Xolelwa Mlumbi-Peter of South Africa, said swift action is urgently required to help scale up COVID-19 vaccine production and distribution.  She called on members to shift gears and move towards a solution-oriented discussion.

The next regular TRIPS Council meeting is scheduled for 8-9 June, but members agreed to consider additional meetings in April in order to assess potential progress on the IP waiver discussion.

LDC transition period

Members also discussed a request by the LDCs Group (IP/C/W/668) to once again extend the transition period for LDC members under Article 66.1 of the TRIPS Agreement. Under this provision, LDCs are given an extended transition period to apply provisions of the TRIPS Agreement in recognition of their special requirements, their economic, financial and administrative constraints, and their need for flexibility in order to create a viable technological base. The transition period has been extended twice and is currently set to expire on 1 July 2021.

Delegations were in principle favourable to the extension. Some members expressed full support for the extension as requested (for as long as the member remains in the category of LDCs and for a period of 12 years from the date of entry into force of a decision by the United Nations General Assembly to exclude the member from that category). Other members expressed a preference for extending the period for a limited number of years, while others had additional questions on how the request for a transition period for countries that have graduated from LDC status related to Article 66.1.

MSMEs and green technologies

Continuing the theme of IP and innovation regularly featuring on the TRIPS Council agenda since 2012, the Friends of IP and Innovation (Australia, Canada, Chile, the European Union, Japan, Singapore, Switzerland, Chinese Taipei, the United Kingdom and the United States) proposed to discuss the topic of “Making MSMEs competitive in green tech” (IP/C/W/675).

The submission presents intellectual property rights (IPR) approaches for making micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) competitive in green technologies and makes the case for MSMEs playing a pivotal role in ongoing technology change towards greater sustainability. Co-sponsors underlined that MSMEs account for more than 50 per cent of employment and can constitute core engines of innovation and growth. Therefore, the role of IPRs to enhance their competitiveness should be looked at closely.

There are various ways in which MSMEs can make use of the IP system to become more competitive in the field of green technologies. These range from taking advantage of international and regional IP application and registration mechanisms and using international platforms for sharing information and opportunities for partnership and collaboration to national solutions such as fast-track patenting or even on-demand support facilitated by IP offices. Through these efforts, progress towards more sustainable technologies can be accelerated, in turn fostering innovation and providing opportunities for cooperation in the green technology sector, proponents said.

LDCs and developing countries agreed on the importance of discussing this issue as access to green technology would contribute to boosting their competitiveness while respecting environmental imperatives. However, they highlighted the lack of a viable technological base, particularly in LDCs, and stressed the need to benefit from more effective technology transfer. This would not only serve to increase their levels of production but also to provide them with technology that enables the sustainable and environmentally friendly development of new products, they said.

Other issues

The meeting of the TRIPS Council was attended by a group of capital-based experts and delegates from LDC members and observers who participated in the Workshop on the Implementation of Article 66.2 of the TRIPS Agreement on 2, 4 and 5 March organized by the WTO Secretariat. Article 66.2 calls on developed countries to provide incentives to enterprises and institutions in their territories for the purpose of promoting and encouraging technology transfer to LDCs in order to enable them to create a sound and viable technological base.

On the initiation of non-violation and situation complaints under the TRIPS Agreement, and following the General Council decision of 10 December 2019 to extend the related moratorium until the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12), members discussed whether elements of agreement could be identified in order to advance discussion towards a concrete outcome. This question concerns the longstanding discussion of whether — and under what circumstances — members should have the right to bring disputes to the WTO if they consider that another member’s action or a particular situation has deprived them of an expected benefit under the TRIPS Agreement, even if no specific TRIPS obligation has been violated.

The chair noted that there are now only eight months left before the Council is due to report again on this issue and called for discussions to focus on concrete suggestions for the Council’s recommendation to MC12, scheduled to take place the week of 29 November 2021 in Geneva.

TRIPS amendment

The chair reported that, since the last TRIPS Council regular meeting in October 2020, the Gambia had deposited on 20 October 2020 its instrument of acceptance for the protocol amending the TRIPS Agreement. Also, on 1 January 2021, the United Kingdom confirmed its continued acceptance of the protocol.

To date, 132 members have accepted the TRIPS Amendment, which entered into force on 23 January 2017, securing for developing countries a legal pathway to access affordable medicines under WTO rules. The chair encouraged the remaining 32 members to expedite action in good time before the current deadline for acceptance, which was extended until 31 December 2021.

New chair

Members elected Dagfinn Sørli, Ambassador of Norway, as TRIPS Council chair for the coming year.

WBG

When COVID-19 shut primary schools throughout Pakistan early in 2020, entrepreneur Maheen Adamjee knew she had to act quickly to save her business.

 

Dot & Line provided in-home tutoring to Pakistani schoolchildren with a network of women micro-franchisees who used their homes as teaching centers.

A national lockdown to contain the disease halted all in-person tutoring sessions. So in just two weeks, Dot & Line rewrote its business plan, created digital tools, and launched training classes to help its teachers shift to online tutoring sessions. The firm transformed itself into a digital company nearly overnight.

One year later, Dot & Line has expanded into several countries and is growing briskly, driven by demand from the Pakistan diaspora. The company’s new challenge: adding enough teachers to keep up with all the new students.

Adamjee is a great example of a start-up businesswoman responding to COVID-19 with agility, creativity, and resilience. There’s no question that the pandemic dealt a major blow to businesses. Some women-owned firms have rebounded by adopting new business models and using digital platforms to take advantage of emerging regional opportunities.  Adamjee and two other women entrepreneurs described their experiences and offered practical tips at a recent #OneSouthAsia Conversation, a series of online events on regional issues.

Even before the pandemic, barely 18% of South Asian businesses were principally owned by women – the lowest rate among global regions

Women entrepreneurs often pioneer new products and services that expand opportunities for others. But even before the pandemic, barely 18% of South Asian businesses were principally owned by women – the lowest rate among global regions. Legal, cultural, and financial barriers discourage women from starting a business.

Another hurdle: tariffs and trade barriers throughout South Asia. Both make it slow and costly for small firms to trade. 

“Within South Asia, trading is very difficult because of nontrade barriers and rules that change overnight. People prefer to trade outside the region than in it,” said Ayanthi Gurusinghe, a woman entrepreneur in Sri Lanka.

She founded a company, Cord360.com, a B2B platform that connects small buyers and sellers for products ranging from dried fruits to pharmaceuticals. Cord360.com offers training to help women entrepreneurs learn about international markets. It has been especially active in encouraging women to trade products across borders in Sri Lanka, India, and Pakistan.

The pandemic has propelled women entrepreneurs into the digital economy which has allowed them to reach across national boundaries to establish partnerships and target new customers, overcoming travel and trade restrictions. 

“In terms of the demographics, a lot of the culture and habits are the same when you look at India, or Bangladesh, or Afghanistan,” Adamjee said. “The internet blurs those borders and allows for professional relationships that could not take place previously.”


Watch the panel discussion: Celebrating the Champions for Change in South Asia: Gender Equality in Leadership:


Sairee Chahal,  founded her company, SHEROES, in 2014 as an online community for women. It now has 22 million members in India, Bangladesh, and other countries – up from nearly 16 million before the pandemic. The site offers career tips, job leads, training, legal advice, and a free counseling helpline. It also is an online platform helping microentrepreneurs sell their goods.

In India alone, Chahal said an estimated 20 million women will become microentrepreneurs over the next three years . Many will use digital platforms or e-commerce. “That would not be possible if 300 million [Indian] women hadn’t adopted the internet in the past three or four years,” she said.

However, government policymakers have not yet recognized the enormous economic potential of women who create innovative products and services that ripple through the economy . More women entrepreneurs could “have a huge impact on GDP” but they aren’t getting the kind of policy support needed, Chahal said.

The pandemic has propelled women entrepreneurs into the digital economy, allowing them to reach across national boundaries to establish partnerships and target new customers

Our discussion identified several actions to support women-led businesses:

ITU

Thinking back over my long career at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), I remember arriving at my first-ever ITU Women’s Breakfast at the 1993 Regional Telecommunication Development Conference for Asia and the Pacific in Singapore.

 

This popular initiative, pioneered by a dear friend and colleague, Walda Roseman, became such a fixture at key ITU meetings over the past 25+ years. Female delegates got to meet and network with other women in the information and communication technology (ICT) sector. It was especially valuable when we were much scarcer in number.

Today, after a year without face-to-face meetings, those opportunities seem far away.

Yet this year’s International Women’s Day is all about women’s leadership – the kind Walda showed.

Leadership has been high on my own agenda, too, both in my previous role as head of Strategic Planning and Management, and now as Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau.

Building momentum

ITU’s roots as a highly technical agency has contributed to a marked gender imbalance, both in our staff demographics and in the number of female delegates attending ITU events. That’s changing – but we can and should take proactive steps to speed things along.

Noticing the chronic lack of women seeking leadership positions at ITU events (as chairs of committees, for example), we began organizing training sessions for female delegates as side-events to our conferences. Eventually, ITU partnered with the US Federal Communications Commission to co-organize the WeLead mentoring programme for the 2015 World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-15).

Momentum grew, culminating in the first Network of Women (NoW) programme led by the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau. I want to build on the success of that initiative with the new NoWs we are launching across the world to accompany this year’s World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC-21), set to take place on 8-19 November.

The NoW platform enables women to share experiences, learn from one another, and gain the expertise and confidence to assume active leadership roles at key ITU events.

As we launch a Network of Women in each ITU Region ahead of WTDC-21, I can already feel the excitement and passion women delegates are bringing to the process.

Our Secretary-General, Houlin Zhao, was among the first leaders to join the International Geneva Gender Champion movement back in 2015. He maintains his commitment to reforming internal practices, helping countries raise awareness, and promoting ICT careers for women. All ITU Directors are working actively to advance opportunities for women and break barriers, including unconscious bias in recruitment and promotion.

A virtuous circle

Promoting women’s leadership creates a virtuous circle, paving the way for more women and girls to embrace the exciting opportunities in the fast-growing technology space. As the actor, gender advocate and former ITU Envoy for Women and Girls, Geena Davis, said: ‘’If she can see it, she can be it.’’

This year, we celebrate the 10th anniversary of our Girls in ICTs movement.

As we increasingly see over the last decade, female role models in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) can inspire young girls and help women gain confidence in their own abilities and potential.

ITU founded the EQUALS Global Partnership with such empowerment in mind. The EQUALS Leadership Coalition, led by the International Trade Centre and UN Women, is working to achieve gender equality in tech leadership by 2030. We are doing this by training and mentoring, facilitating better access to finance and funding, and identifying regulatory and policy barriers faced by women in ICTs.

Through Generation Equality and the work of the Action Coalition on Technology and Innovation led by ITU and other partners, I hope that more women and girls, in all their diversity, will receive equal opportunities to safely and meaningfully use, design and exercise leadership in technology and innovation.

This year, recognizing the power of mentoring to bring about positive change, ITU is launching the Women in Cybersecurity Mentorship programme on International Women’s Day. This new initiative encourages women to ‘dive in and thrive in’ the fast-growing field of cybersecurity. It aims to give them knowledge, as well as courage, to take on challenging and exciting opportunities.

Nurturing a community of leaders

Diversity and inclusivity will pay off with better decision-making and better outcomes.

Let’s make gender parity our benchmark – not just for ITU, but for a world where each and every person can fulfil their dreams and reach their potential.

Walda Roseman’s efforts were instrumental in putting gender onto the digital industry’s agenda. I look forward to being able to gather once again, when we can celebrate the power of community and the potential of ICTs to promote ever-greater global inclusiveness.

AfDB

The African Development Bank has approved two grants for research that will increase African women’s access to a range of digital financial services including loans and micro-insurance.

 

The grants, for $1 million and $300,000 respectively, will be disbursed through the Africa Digital Financial Inclusion Facility, a blended finance vehicle supported by the Bank, to two financial technology firms, Pula Advisors Kenya Ltd., and M-KOPA Kenya Ltd.

Pula Advisors will use the $1 million for research of social, cultural and economic factors that impact women farmers’ access to micro-insurance in Kenya, Nigeria and Zambia. Research findings will inform the design and implementation of gender-centric insurance products. The project will be undertaken over a 3-year time frame.

“This grant funding will be used to leverage technology to develop innovative and responsive loan and insurance products that can spur productivity and inclusion, especially for our women smallholder farmers and traders.” said Sheila Okiro, the Bank’s Coordinator for ADFI.

The three-year project will have three phases: product development; piloting; and scaling; the outcomes are expected to benefit 360,000 farmers, 50% of them women, as well as boost farm yields by up to 30%. This will also raise incomes and enhance household and national food security.

M-KOPA will use the $300,000 grant funding for research involving 250 women and 250 men in Kenya’s Kisumu, Eldoret and Machakos counties. The company will assess the barriers to and opportunities for women’s access to digital financial services and financial literacy programmes via smartphone, and use the research insights to design a financial services app that is relevant to small-scale women traders.

The project, approved by the Bank on 9 February, 2021, will benefit women with no or limited access to financial services that run small informal businesses. Once developed, the mobile app will be used to pilot small loans to the women traders.

Both projects align with ADFI’s digital products and innovation and capacity building intervention pillars  as well as its cross-cutting focus on gender inclusion, a thematic running across all its interventions.

The PULA grant approval meets African Development Bank strategic goals, including the Ten-Year Strategy, two High-5 priority areas—feed Africa and improve the quality of life for Africans— and  the financial inclusion strategies of Kenya, Nigeria and Zambia.

The M-KOPA project is aligned with the Bank’s Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA) program that seeks to increase access to finance for women.

ADFI is a pan-African initiative designed to accelerate digital financial inclusion throughout Africa, with the goal of ensuring that 332 million more Africans, 60% of them women, gain access to the formal economy. The Facility was formally launched in June 2019 at the Bank’s Annual Meetings in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. Current ADFI partners are the French Development Agency (AFD); the French Treasury’s Ministry of Economy and Finance; The Government of Luxembourg’s Ministry of Finance; the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; and the African Development Bank, which also hosts the fund.

e-Residency

A short guide to the advantages of the Estonian business market

What comes to your mind when someone mentions Estonia?

Leaving aside efforts to remember where it is on the world map, your thoughts most likely come down to Skype. But did you know that at least one of the apps you have on your phone probably originates from Estonia?

Over the years, Estonia has drawn more and more attention as a prominent European entrepreneurial hub.

And for good reason!

In this blog article, our company is happy to shed some light on the main benefits of the Estonian ecosystem that await every enterprising businessperson.

Estonia’s entrepreneurial spirit

Speaking of the Estonian business environment, it would be hard not to emphasise the country’s advanced business infrastructure as well as the economic freedom the Estonian government gives to entrepreneurs. Moreover, hosting European and NATO cyber security centres, Estonia provides security and status and offers ample fintech opportunities in the business sector.

The startup “bloom” taking place in Estonia demonstrates the very favourable conditions of the Estonian startup scene. The sustainability of the market and friendly regulations attracts both smart people and smart money. As Estonia is part of the European Union, entrepreneurs can take advantage of EU funding and banking. Estonian startups have enormous opportunities for raising money.

Plus, the startup ecosystem in Estonia is filled with mentors and mediators so-despite some healthy competition — finding qualified incubator and seed accelerator should not be a problem for legitimate business plans. The Estonian tech and commercial talent pool are the envy of many. Indeed, the low risk and startup costs afford ample opportunities in Estonia’s business ecosystem: so much so that nearly every Estonian you meet has a startup or tried their luck in the startup scene.

Estonians are generally pretty humble, except when it comes to speaking with pride about our startup unicorns! A quick reminder that this country with its population of 1.3 million is home to 4 billion-dollar unicorns: Skype, TransferWise, Playtech, Bolt. You’ve probably also heard of Monese, Pipedrive, and Skeleton Technologies… and we may continue endlessly, but let’s get to the business and consider the main advantages of starting a business in Estonia.

Tax system

Taxation is one of the most important aspect when choosing a location for a business. Estonia offers one of the world’s most favourable tax systems for startups and small businesses.

To start with, in Estonia income tax is 0%, which means there is no need to pay corporate tax on income earned. Instead, corporate taxes are paid distributing company profits — for example when paying out dividends to shareholders — or other taxable payments.

It’s important to be aware that if you actively manage your company from another country, such as your country of residence, then it’s likely that the condition of permanent establishment will arise and create a taxable presence for your company outside of Estonia. But don’t worry — your company won’t have to pay tax in two countries thanks to the numerous treaties for the avoidance of double taxation that Estonia has signed with other countries.

Regardless of your situation, we strongly recommend consulting with a business service provider to determine your company’s tax obligations.

The first of its kind

It’s human nature for people to keep looking for routes to make life way easier.

When Estonia launched the first e-Residency programme in the world in 2014, it was no exception.

In case you haven’t heard of it, here are the basics:

What?

Simply put, e-Residency provides a digital ID to users, which allows them to log into different online services in Estonia, such as online banks and government portals. The primary motivation to apply is to create and run an EU-based company 100% online. This gives entrepreneurs from all over the world the opportunity to run a business remotely.

Why?

Not everyone needs e-Residency. But it will be extremely useful in case you want to start and run a business in Estonia, where 99% of services are available online. E-residency will help those who are not Estonian citizens but want to enter or invest in the Estonian market.

We should mention though that e-Residency is open to all individuals, no matter where you’re from — and the programme welcomes fans of Estonia and e-Residency to its growing community as well!

How?

Hurry! Join the nearly 80,000 entrepreneurs who have already joined the digital nation, many of whom are successfully developing their businesses in Estonia with e-Residency.

Banking for your Estonian company

Setting up a bank account for your Estonian company is possible but is still a process, so don’t try and do it alone. Your chances of obtaining a business bank account are heightened if you get help from an experienced service provider who knows the process and requirements.

Put together, all of the above-mentioned benefits make the Estonian business market incredibly innovative and agile, and full of talent, entrepreneurial spirit, and enthusiasm. We believe doing business in Estonia is unique and rewarding and we invite you to experience it digitally thanks to e-Residency.

ITU

ITU and A4AI publish “The affordability of ICT services 2020”

A new policy brief from ITU and the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), finds that high costs for Internet access relative to income remain one of the main barriers to the use of information and communication technology (ICT) services worldwide. Taking income differences into account, a mobile broadband subscription with at least 1.5 gigabytes (GB) of data costs around four times more in developing countries than in developed ones.

“The affordability of I​CT services 2020″ analyses five categories, namely mobile broadband, fixed broadband, mobile data and voice low-usage, mobile data and voice high-usage, and mobile cellular low usage. Service prices in all five categories continued a slow but steady decline over the past year.

Developing countries were the main drivers of this global price decline. However, a pronounced affordability gap remains between developed and developing countries. While 4G networks cover areas with about 85 per cent of the world’s population, nearly half of those people were still offline in 2020.

“The declining price trend for mobile and fixed broadband is encouraging, but we need to strengthen our efforts to lower the prices in developing countries,” said Houlin Zhao, ITU Secretary-General. “While the COVID-19 pandemic has spurred the digital transformation, we need to connect all people to schooling, work, health, business and government services. We build up the infrastructure for a better future, not only for challenging times.”

According to the UN Broadband Commission on Sustainable Development‘s Target 2 for 2025, entry-level broadband service in developing countries should not cost more than 2 per cent of monthly Gross National Income (GNI) per capita. The global median price for entry-level mobile-broadband services in 2020 fell within that target, at 1.7 per cent. However, the median price for entry-level fixed-broadband (i.e. at least 5 GB) services was considerably above the target, at 2.9 per cent of GNI per capita.

Broadband in developing countries had a median price of 2.5 per cent of GNI per capita, compared with only 0.6 per cent in developed countries, the brief shows. Over the past year, the number of economies that met the 2 per cent affordability target increased by six: out of the 190 economies covered in the report, 106 have achieved the target, while 84 economies have prices above the target.

Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau, said: “ICT services in the majority of least developed countries (LDCs) remain prohibitively expensive, even for entry-level users. Despite the median price decline in the past year, the mobile broadband data-only basket was unaffordable in 39 out of 43 LDCs, while the fixed-broadband basket was unaffordable in 32 out of the 33 LDCs for which data are available.”

For a fixed-broadband service, the median price in developed countries stood at 1.2 per cent of monthly GNI per capita, while in developing countries the median price was much higher, at 4.7 per cent. Out of the 178 economies for which these data were collected, the price was below 2 per cent in 67 economies and above this threshold in the other 111.

“This data makes clear that we need to rapidly accelerate progress to remove cost barriers to Internet services,” said Sonia Jorge, Executive Director at A4AI. “The pandemic not only underlines the critical importance of Internet access in today’s world but has laid bare the scale of digital inequality that remains. We need ambitious, coordinated action to make affordable, meaningful connectivity available to everyone, with efforts targeted at those least likely to be online, including poor and rural populations, women, and people living in the least developed countries. As the world becomes increasingly digital, the need to expand connectivity to everyone becomes ever more urgent.”

Fixed-broadband services, the most expensive category studied, saw the least change in the past year. This apparent price stability, however, does not reflect recent, and varying, quality improvements. In developed economies, the median speed of entry-level connections increased from 30 to 40 megabits per second (Mbit/s) last year. In developing countries, it only increased from 3 to 5 Mbit/s.

Africa witnessed the biggest price decreases in all five categories in relative terms, although its median prices remain well above world prices. In general, regional disparities are less pronounced than the gap between economies with different income levels.

Note to editors

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) have partnered to collect data and analyse global and regional trends in affordability and pricing for a set of five ICT price categories, covering different technologies, including mobile voice and mobile and fixed broadband. Details on the methodology are available on the ITU website.

The latest data were collected in June 2020, while the source for historical price data are previous ITU data collections. The brief focuses on ICT prices expressed as a percentage of monthly gross national income per capita (GNI p.c.)  to show “affordability”, or ease of purchasing an ICT service, relative to consumer income.

Country groups in the report are benchmarked using the median price of categories. The distribution of ICT prices in many world regions is highly skewed, with very high values observed in several economies. Representing country group values by the median (rather than, for example, the average, which is intuitively easier to communicate) dampens the impact of outliers on differences across time and space.

For more information:

  • View the global, regional and national ICT Price Basket results through the ​Visualization tool
  • More detailed basket prices for the economies covered are also available h​ere expressed in terms of USD, PPP and GNI per capita
WIPO

International patent applications via WIPO in 2020 continued to grow amid the COVID-19 pandemic’s vast human and economic toll, with leading users China and the U.S. each marking annual growth in filings.

International patent applications filed via WIPO’s Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), which is one of the widely used metrics for measuring innovative activity, grew by 4% in 2020 to reach 275,900 applications – the highest number ever, despite an estimated drop in global GDP of 3.5%.

China (68,720 applications, +16.1% year-on-year growth) remained the largest user of WIPO’s PCT System, followed by the U.S. (59,230 applications, +3%), Japan (50,520 applications, -4.1%), the Republic of Korea (20,060 applications, +5.2%) and Germany (18,643 applications, -3.7%)
(Annex 1 PDF, Annex 1).

Beyond the top 10, other countries that saw strong growth include Saudi Arabia (956 applications, +73.2%), Malaysia (255 applications, +26.2%), Chile (262 applications, +17.0%), Singapore (1,278 applications, +14.9%) and Brazil (697 applications, +8.4%). Longer term trends point to the globalization of innovation, with Asia accounting for 53.7% percent of all PCT filing activity, versus 35.7% 10 years ago.

Use of the international trademark system dipped, but only slightly. This was expected given that trademarks tend to represent the introduction of new goods and services – both of which slowed as a result of the global pandemic. International trademark applications via WIPO’s Madrid System for the International Registration of Marks decreased by 0.6% to 63,800 in 2020 – the first decline since the global financial crisis of 2008-2009.

(PHOTO: WIPO/BERROD)

Press conference: Video on YouTube

The economic fallout from the pandemic hit demand for the protection of industrial designs via the Hague System for the International Registration of Industrial Designs. Demand fell by 15% in 2020 to 18,580 designs – the first decline since 2006.

Worldwide demand for IP rights, which help innovators and enterprises take their ideas to the market, has historically and broadly tracked global economic performance. However, growth over the past decade in the use of WIPO’s global IP services, most notably the PCT, has outperformed global GDP growth.

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Interactive charts

Charts with the latest key international IP data.

Access our interactive IP charts for 2020

International patent system (Patent Cooperation Treaty – PCT)

Top PCT filers

For the fourth consecutive year, China-based telecoms giant Huawei Technologies, with 5,464 published PCT applications, was the top filer in 2020. It was followed by Samsung Electronics of the Republic of Korea (3,093), Mitsubishi Electric Corp. of Japan (2,810), LG Electronics Inc. of the Republic of Korea (2,759) and Qualcomm Inc. of the U.S. (2,173) (Annex 2 PDF, Annex 2). Among the top 10 filers, LG Electronics reported the fastest growth (+67.6%) in the number of published applications in 2020 and as a result it moved up from 10th position in 2019 to 4th position in 2020.

The University of California with 559 published applications continues to head the list of top applicants among educational institutions in 2020. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (269) ranked second, followed by Shenzhen University (252), Tsinghua University (231) and Zhejiang University (209) (Annex 3 PDF, Annex 3). The top 10-university list comprises five universities from China, four from the U.S., and one from Japan.

Top technologies

Among fields of technology, computer technology (9.2% of total) accounted for the largest share of published PCT applications, followed by digital communication (8.3%), medical technology (6.6%), electrical machinery (6.6%), and measurement (4.8%) (Annex 4 PDF, Annex 4).

Six of the top 10 technologies recorded double-digit growth in 2020, with audio-visual technology reporting the fastest rate of growth – +29.5%, compared to 8.7% the previous year –  followed by digital communication (+15.8%), computer technology (+13.2%), measurement (+10.9%) semiconductors (+10.1%) and pharmaceuticals (+10%).

International trademark system (Madrid System)

U.S.-based applicants (10,005) filed the largest number of international trademark applications using WIPO’s Madrid System in 2020, followed by those located in Germany (7,334), China (7,075), France (3,716) and the U.K. (3,679) (Annex 5 PDF, Annex 5).

Among the top ten origins, China (+16.4%) is the only country to record double-digit growth in 2020. The U.K. (+5.1%) and Italy (+3.6%) also reported notable growth.  Outside the top ten origins, the Republic of Korea (+13.4%), Canada (+94.4%), and Denmark (11.5%) saw the strongest growth. In contrast, France (-16.3%) and Turkey (-15.4%) saw sharp declines.

Top Madrid filers

Novartis AG of Switzerland with 233 Madrid applications heads the list of top filers in 2020. WIPO received 104 more applications from Novartis in 2020 than in 2019, elevating it from 3rd position to the top spot. Novartis AG was followed by Huawei Technologies of China (197), Shiseido Company of Japan (130), ADP Gauselmann of Germany (123) and L’Oréal of France (115). L’Oréal – the top filer in 2019 – moved down to 5th position as it filed 78 fewer applications in 2020 (Annex 6 PDF, Annex 6).

Top classes

The most-specified class in international applications received by WIPO was Class 9 (computer hardware and software and other electrical or electronic apparatus, etc.) that accounted for 10.6% of the 2020 total. It was followed by Class 35 (services for business; 8.1%) and Class 42 (technological services; 7.1%). Among the top 10 classes, Class 10 (surgical, medical, dental and veterinary apparatus, etc.; +21.1%) and Class 5 (pharmaceuticals and other preparations for medical purposes; +9.2%) saw the fastest growth.

International design system (Hague System)

Despite a substantial decrease, Germany remained the largest user of the international design system, with 3,666 designs (Annex 7 PDF, Annex 7). The U.S. (2,211 designs) moved up from 6th position to become the second largest user of the Hague System in 2020. Switzerland (1,944 designs), the Republic of Korea (1,669) and Italy (1,231) are ranked third, fourth and fifth, respectively. Among the top ten origins, the U.S. (+62.7%), Turkey (+34.7%) and China (+22.7%) are the only three countries to record growth in 2020.

Top Hague filers

For the fourth consecutive year, Samsung Electronics of the Republic of Korea with 859 designs in published applications headed the list of top filers, followed by Procter & Gamble of the U.S. (623), Fonkel Meubelmarketing of the Netherlands (569), Volkswagen of Germany (524) and Beijing Xiaomi Mobile Software of China (516). For the first time a company from China is among the top five applicants. Lampenwelt GMBH of Germany –ranked tenth with 276 designs – is a new user of the Hague System (Annex 8 PDF, Annex 8).

Top fields

Designs related to means of transport (10.1%) accounted for the largest share of total designs in 2020; followed by recording and communication equipment (8.8%); packages and containers (8.4%); furnishing (7.4%); and lighting apparatus (6.9%). Among the top 10 classes, pharmaceutical and cosmetic products (+42.6%) saw sizeable growth in 2020.

Domain name disputes

Trademark owners in 2020 filed a record 4,204 cases under the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) with WIPO’s Arbitration and Mediation Center, moving past the 50,000 mark since the start of this WIPO service (Annex 9 PDF, Annex 9).  It was also a record year for WIPO Mediation and Arbitration cases involving patents, trademarks, digital copyright, and other types of disputes involving technology.

With a greater number of people spending more time online during the COVID-19 pandemic, trademark owners are taking up this WIPO service not only to reinforce their online presence, but also to offer authentic content and trusted sales outlets to Internet users across varied business areas (Annex 10 PDF, Annex 10). Representing 75% of WIPO’s generic Top-Level Domain (gTLD) caseload, .COM demonstrated its continuing primacy.

WIPO UDRP cases in 2020 involved parties from 127 countries, up from 122 in 2019. The U.S., with 1,359 cases filed, France (786), the U.K. (411), Switzerland (256) and Germany (235) were the top five filing countries  (Annex 11 PDF, Annex 11).

WIPO also offers dispute resolution services for over 75 country code Top-Level Domains, such as .CN (China), .EU (European Union) and .MX (Mexico).

Outside the area of domain name disputes, the WIPO Center in 2020 received 77 mediation and arbitration cases in different areas of IP, up 24% from the previous year’s caseload (Annex 12 PDF, Annex 12).  These WIPO procedures allow parties from around the world to resolve their cases without having to go to court.  Patent-related disputes remained the most common in WIPO’s caseload, followed by trademark, information and communications technology (ICT), and copyright disputes
(Annex 13 PDF, Annex 13).

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