Commonwealth partners with UNESCAP to shine spotlight on digital economy in Asia and the Pacific at SIDS4

Today, on the sidelines of the fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS4), delegates joined the side event, “Harnessing the Digital Economy in Asia and the Pacific.”

Organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat in collaboration with the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) and The Pacific Community (SPC), the event focused on accelerating digital transformation to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

The conference takes place at a crucial juncture, as countries in the Asia-Pacific region and across the globe, strive to recover from the pandemic while grappling with climate change and geopolitical tensions. These challenges have hindered progress toward the SDGs, with no country on track to achieve all 17 goals by 2030. Against this backdrop, the digital economy emerges as a critical tool for sustainable development.

The side event brought together policymakers, development partners, and experts to discuss how digital technologies can drive economic growth and resilience in Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

The panellists included:

  • H.E. Dr Ali Haidar Ahmed, Minister for Housing, Land and Urban Development, Republic of Maldives
  • H.E. Ms. Fekitamoeloa Útoikamanu, Minister for Meteorology, Energy, Information, Disaster Management, Environment, Climate Change and Communication
  • Rt Hon Patricia Scotland KC, Secretary-General, Commonwealth Secretariat
  • Ms. Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of ESCAP
  • Anne-Claire Goarant, Project Manager, Climate change and environmental sustainability programme, SPC

The panellists discussed the importance of digital skills, affordable connectivity, enabling legal frameworks, and digital trade facilitation.

Building sustainable digital economies

In her opening remarks, Commonwealth Secretary-General Rt Hon Patricia Scotland KC emphasised the need for cooperation among developmental partners. She announced the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with UNESCAP, marking a significant milestone in the two organisations’ collaboration. She highlighted the role of the Commonwealth, which comprises 56 countries, including 33 small states, 25 of which are SIDS.

“We are a family of proud, connected, and diverse nations. Advocating for small states is at the core of the Commonwealth Secretariat’s work. As island developing states, we welcome the enormous competitive advantage of digital transformation as a game changer,”

Secretary-General Scotland underscored the need for sustainable adoption and integration of technology within national development plans. She outlined steps to build digital skills, provide universal connectivity, and create a conducive policy environment.

 “As island developing states, we welcome the enormous competitive advantage of digital transformation as a game changer,” she added.

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Gender inclusivity and digital trade

The panellists stressed the importance of gender-inclusive policies to ensure women and girls are not left behind in the digital age. According to recent UNESCAP research, addressing gender disparities could add $4.5 trillion to the region’s GDP, highlighting that the integration of women and girls in the digital economy paves the way for strong and inclusive economic growth.

Legal reform for digital trade

The event addressed the economic benefits of digitalisation and legal reform and highlighted the Secretariat’s Commonwealth Connectivity Agenda, which aims to boost intra-Commonwealth trade to $2 trillion by 2030. Digital trade facilitation and legal reform can unleash significant economic benefits, bringing the total potential gains to nearly $1.2 trillion by 2026.

Pathway to CHOGM 2024

Looking ahead to the first Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) to be held in a Pacific SID, in Samoa this October, today’s event reaffirmed the Commonwealth’s commitment to building resilient, sustainable digital economies.

The MoU signing and the collaboration between the Commonwealth Secretariat, UNESCAP, and SPC are expected to yield significant benefits for the region, fostering innovation, and sustainable development.

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