At “eWeek”, DDG Ellard emphasizes the importance of digital trade for development
Deputy Director-General Angela Ellard participated on 5 December in the high-level roundtable on unlocking digital trade for inclusive development as part of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) “eWeek” 2023. DDG Ellard discussed how digital trade can contribute to inclusive and sustainable development and how to strengthen the ability of developing and least developed countries (LDCs) to participate in digital trade.
DDG Ellard noted that digital trade facilitates trade more broadly and creates more opportunities for those who have been sidelined from the benefits of trade.Digital trade can also be a powerful tool for development as it drives growth and increased productivity, DDG Ellard said. This is especially important for those who remain on the margins of the global economy, including small businesses, women and LDCs.
DDG Ellard observed that while the growth of digital trade holds great promise for developing economies and LDCs, the digital divide is real and must be addressed. In this regard, she noted that the potential of digital trade is constrained by the lack of access to finance, low-income levels, limited Internet access, inadequate transport infrastructure and skills gaps. Moreover, in many economies, the legal and regulatory framework is insufficient to prevent cybercrime, ensure online privacy, support the interoperability of mobile money platforms and banks, and promote consumers’ trust in online transactions.
Multilateral cooperation at the WTO is essential for realizing the full potential of digital technologies, DDG Ellard said. In this regard, WTO members are working to bridge the digital divide, improve the existing rules and develop new ones to reflect the changing nature of trade. In particular, WTO members have reinvigorated the work programme on electronic commerce, a longstanding framework for members’ deliberation on all trade-related issues relating to global e-commerce, particularly those related to development.
Moreover, since 1998, WTO members have been consistently renewing the longstanding moratorium on customs duties on electronic transmissions. They have a deadline to decide whether to continue it at the WTO’s 13th Ministerial Conference in February 2024 . In addition, 90 WTO members, including developing members, participate in the plurilateral initiative on e-commerce aimed at developing baseline rules governing the global digital economy.
DDG Ellard also highlighted the WTO’s efforts to improve digital trade capacity through technical assistance and the Aid for Trade Programme, which helps developing and LDC members to build supply-side capacity and trade-related infrastructure. She also emphasized the research the WTO has done with other international organizations to explore the opportunities and challenges for developing economies arising from digital trade.
In particular, DDG Ellard highlighted a joint WTO/World Bank note on “Turning Digital Trade into a Catalyst for African Development” and a report on “Digital Trade for Development”, authored by the IMF, OECD, UNCTAD, the World Bank and the WTO, which will be launched as part of the UNCTAD “eWeek” 2023.
DDG Ellard concluded by calling for more cooperation between international organizations, national governments, business and civil society on digital trade-related issues.