Under the theme of “Towards Inclusive E-Commerce“, over 900 people from 99 countries met in Geneva from April 24-28. Attendees represented government, international organizations, the private sector and civil society.
Participants acknowledged that there are many challenges to overcome, including infrastructure, cybercrime, lack of trust in the internet and online shopping and enabling the inclusion of women, youth, rural businesses, Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and more.
Gathering leading minds from business, government, youth, the international community and civil society, the UNCTAD E-Commerce Week explored practical strategies to tackle these challenges and move forward.
“The 3rd edition of the E-commerce Week has demonstrated beyond a doubt how the convening power of the United Nations and smart partnerships can bring out a shared sense of purpose, engagement and results. We all look to the future, firm in our conviction that together we will impact how e-commerce works for inclusive prosperity.” said Dr. Mukhisa Kituyi Secretary-General of UNCTAD.
“E-commerce has the potential to unlock new opportunities for young entrepreneurs and people from the developing world. Not by accident, but from deliberately targeted actions to achieve inclusion and empowerment,” he continued.
The week kicked off with a session focusing on Cybersecurity and Cybercrime, a major concern threatening the digital economy.
“A majority of people are feeling insecure online, particularly girls and women. This tells us that there has been a lack of legal framework or tools which can provide the same security online as the users have offline,” said H.E. Ms Anusha Rahman Khan, Pakistan’s Minister of State for Information Technology and Telecom, referring to a joint Ipsos, CIGI and UNCTAD survey released during the E-commerce week.
During the E-Commerce Week, the Group of Friends of E-Commerce for Development (FED), held its first Ministerial Meeting in which they discussed the role of e-commerce and trade in developing countries. Ministers from FED member countries proposed a roadmap with seven priority issues for sustainable economic development.
“The roadmap marks an important milestone on the road to the 11th WTO Ministerial in Buenos Aires in December and it will certainly help shape the debate on outcomes for the meeting – and beyond,” said Susana Malcorra, Minister of Foreign Trade of Argentina.
On day two, Dr. Kituyi chaired the unveiling of the new eTrade for all platform, alongside three Ministers, four Ambassadors and four Heads of Agencies. Etradeforall.org is the new information hub that connects the dots among partners, beneficiaries and donors to foster more inclusive e-commerce. It grants developing countries easier access to resources which enables them to make progress in their e-commerce readiness. It also features upcoming news and events, substantive releases (data and research) on e-commerce and the digital economy and offers increased learning opportunities through the sharing of best practices.
In a high-level panel discussion held in the afternoon of day two, Jack Ma, the UNCTAD Special Advisor for Young Entrepreneurs, encouraged policymakers to create an enabling environment for small businesses and young people to engage effectively in e-commerce. Mr. Ma, who is also the founder of Alibaba Group, said: “E-commerce creates jobs and brings about opportunities for young entrepreneurs in developing countries. I encourage young, aspiring entrepreneurs to be brave, embrace change and new technologies.”
Over 450 youth from around the world participated in E-commerce week, both physically and virtually. “Disruptive economic trends are changing the job market globally, and we the youth, more than anyone are aware that we need to be prepared for it. Updating the public school system in developing countries is a priority,” said the Youth during the E-commerce week closing session.
On day three, panelists discussed protecting consumers online and ensuring sustainable and inclusive digital markets. They identified areas that need to be strengthened, such as national and regional consumer protection frameworks, and institutional capacities.
“The continued success of the digital economy will only be possible if e-commerce tools are trusted enough that people integrate it into their daily lives,” said Amanda Long, Director General of Consumers International. “Consumer protection and empowerment enable trust, therefore they should be at the heart of deciding a better digital process,” she continued.
During the E-Commerce Week, panelists also discussed the ‘Gender Dimension of E-Commerce’, noting that there is both a digital and a market divide between men and women.
“From computer literacy to logistics and marketing, we need to ensure that women have the knowledge and skills to e-trade,” said Arancha Gonzalez, Executive Director of the International Trade Center (ITC).
The session highlighted that to engage in e-commerce, women entrepreneurs not only need access to affordable technology, but also to build their digital literacy, access to finance, access to export markets, and their business skills. Referring to the launch of the online platform, etradeforall.org, panelists proposed the establishment of a network of women in e-commerce in developing countries.
Several panelists discussed strategies for measuring e-commerce. One recommendation to enable better collection of data on e-commerce was to increase the use of existing surveys of economic activity and customs declarations.
Other sessions were devoted to the role of micro, small and medium sized enterprises (MSMEs), e-commerce and trade logistics and the importance to helping least developed countries (LDCs) to catch up in the digital economy. Following the successful release and reception of e-commerce readiness assessments on Cambodia and Bhutan, the Enhanced Integrated Framework and Germany pledged new funding to support more LDC e-commerce assessments, including for Liberia and Samoa.
Now is a critical moment to make key decisions on the future of e-commerce, but it is only the beginning of the journey. There are still challenges in making e-commerce more inclusive for the developing world. The only way to manage these challenges is to work together and explore smart and innovative ways to effectively support the digital transition. UNCTAD’s E-Commerce Week was lauded as an outstanding forum for these discussions; the next step is to translate the many important ideas generated into action on the ground.