PIF Ambassador to WTO – Mere Falemaka at the Donor Roundtable

PIF Ambassador to WTO – Mere Falemaka at the Donor Roundtable: Enabling impact at scale in supporting inclusive and sustainable digital economies

Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning, and thank you for the invitation to provide some perspectives on the main priorities for digital development cooperation in the Pacific. My intervention will focus on the area I know best, which is trade.

For a region comprising the smallest and most isolated countries in the world, digital trade provides a genuine opportunity for sustainable growth, noting its potential to narrow distances, reduce trade costs, and promote the diversification of Pacific economies.

This is why in 2017, together with UNCTAD and informed by its e-Trade Readiness methodology, our Members decided to establish the Pacific E-commerce Initiative, a multi-stakeholder partnership to identify and implement regional actions to boost e-commerce readiness.

The first result of this partnership was the development and ministerial approval of a Pacific Regional E-commerce Strategy. The priority actions included in the strategy provide a clear guidance to a development community which is attentive to the needs of the Blue Pacific.

In the area of policy formulation, the Pacific Regional E-commerce Strategy has been useful in providing a template to inform the formalisation of national strategies which speak the same language. Five of our members already finalizing their national strategy, and we are looking forward to additional support continue this foundational work.

Data availability on the e-commerce is an essential prerequisite to formulate robust strategies. While some progress has been achieved in area thanks to the regional collaboration between some our partners and the funding from the Australian Aid Program, data gaps remain very significant in our region, and further support is necessary to bridge them.

On ICT Infrastructure and Services, despite improvements in telecommunications, Pacific SIDS lag behind the average for developing economies on indicators such as internet speed, costs, coverage, and subscriptions. Further assistance to develop backbone and last-mile connectivity, more private sector investment through regulatory reforms, and universal access policies improving uptake in remote islands of our region are crucial. This is why the recent announcement of extra support from Australia and the United States to lay extra cable connecting 8 of our members is very timely and welcome.

On Trade Logistics and Trade Facilitation, low connectivity, expensive shipping, and underdeveloped last-mile logistics impede e-commerce. The recent roll-out of the UNCTAD automated customs clearance system to all of our members creates an important foundation to improve trade facilitation, including for e-commerce. It is now time to leverage ASYCUDA for establishing truly integrated electronic single windows, as well as to interface them with our postal offices. The Pacific must also be supported in the further adoption best trade facilitation practices, suchas the WCO standards on e-commerce, and the engagement with the regional agreement for cross-border paperless trade promoted by UNESCAP. At the domestic level, last-mile connectivity will be facilitated by supporting comprehensive national addressing systems and geolocation systems.

Moving onto E-commerce legislation, a recent UNCTAD review reveals that this is still in its nascent stage across the Pacific. Harmonizing laws based on models such as those provided by UNCITRAL, and integrating e-commerce into trade agreements are vital steps. The basic legal blocs of e-commerce transactions, cybercrime, consumer protection, and data privacy and protection need to be targeted first. Improvements in this area also require donor support to capacity building on e-commerce rules that can promote awareness and proactivity by our national constituencies.

Electronic payment solutions are another bit of the e-commerce puzzle. Here, limited banking penetration affects the availability of Pacific digital payments. Regulatory reforms such as the rollout of progressive sandboxes, financial support for non-bank payment service providers and their integration into national payment systems, and meaningful innovation in the banking system such as via e-payment gateways tailored to our small, dispersed, and isolated buyers and sellers can address these challenges.

There will be no e-commerce development without boosting E-commerce Skills. For many of our citizens, the internet is still used unproductively, and this must change. Digital skills are critical for e-commerce readiness. Upskilling programs for small businesses, strengthening business support services, and integrating digital skills into educational curricula are essential.

Finally, access to finance remains a challenge in the Pacific, especially for innovative ventures such as those leveraging e-commerce. Here support to grant-and-loan schemes, credit guarantees, and blended finance financing are very much needed.

In conclusion, the Pacific SIDS face unique challenges in their journey towards e-commerce readiness. The challenges are numerous and multidimensional, but the donor community can find guidance and value for money by adopting regional approaches such as those promoted by our Pacific E-commerce Initiative.

I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to the Governments of Australia, New Zealand, Korea, and the European Union for their invaluable financial contributions toward our e-commerce initiatives. Additionally, I extend my sincere appreciation to our implementation partners for their unwavering dedication to bolstering the supportive framework for e-commerce advancement in the Pacific. Special thanks go for UNCTAD for their continues commitment to e-commerce development in the Pacific region and the close collaboration we have with them.

Thank you for your attention.

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