UNCTAD E-Commerce Week Session Reports – Day 4

Day 4 : April 28th, 2022
UNCTAD’s eCommerce Week is the leading forum to discuss the development opportunities and challenges associated with the digital economy. This week’s edition, held under the theme “Data and Digitalization for Development”, puts a special emphasis on data and cross-border data flows, as well as the crucial role they play in economic and social development. With this bulletin, CUTS is keeping you posted on the proceedings.


Advancing cross-border paperless trade: Nurturing a digital trade environment

Paperless trade can support the post-pandemic recovery of countries. This session discussed the tools for advancing cross-border paperless trade and conducting readiness assessments for cross-border paperless trade. Panelists shared experiences on how readiness assessments may be conducted, offering a comprehensive framework for countries to take the agenda forward, to develop and update their national policies, strategies and planning and ultimately nurture environments for e-commerce and digital trade. Discussions were based on a newly-developed toolkit for cross-border paperless trade, as well as experiences from nine country assessments completed and seven ongoing assessments.

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Launch: eTrade Readiness Assessment of Kenya

The session broadly focused on the main findings of the eTrade Readiness Assessment (eT Ready) of Kenya, highlighting the opportunities and challenges of digital transformation in the country. It explored the vision of the role of e-commerce for achieving key national policy objectives, including inclusive economic opportunities for women, youth and people living with disabilities. The importance of relevant domestic policies and regulations, trade agreements, and regional and continental cooperation frameworks in support of e-commerce development was also discussed.

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Impact of data governance & cross-border data flows on digital industrialisation, agriculture and indigenous data sovereignty

This session analysed the impact of data governance and cross-border data flows on agriculture and digital industrialisation in developing and least developed countries. Due to servicification and the shift online from COVID-19, data governance and the impact of cross-border data flows have become even more important. Discussions particularly examined the implications of data flows for indigenous data governance and sovereignty, since the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy has encouraged governments to recognise the sovereignty of indigenous peoples over their data.

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Reducing costs, building trust through electronic SPS certification

This session provided an overview of the current status of sanitary and phytosanitary certification (SPS eCert), and how developing countries are using it. It discussed how information on food safety, plant and animal health, as well as SPS eCert, can be communicated in a more efficient, cost-effective, and reliable manner by transitioning from paper to electronic SPS eCert. The key obstacles faced by developing countries,as well as opportunities and ways to scale up SPS eCert in the future, were also addressed.

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The AfCFTA and data governance frameworks in Africa

There is no doubt about the importance of data in global trade in the 21st century. However, there is a lack of policies for the proper regulation of data flows. This session explored the possibility of a continental Data policy framework for unlocking cross-border trade in Africa. This has become increasingly relevant in the context of the AfCFTA protocol, since the impact of different individual country policies in the status-quo is affecting the ability of firms to effectively engage in cross-border digital trade, in turn hindering the level playing field ideal.

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Intergovernmental Group of Experts: Lessons learned from policy responses to the pandemic

After the opening plenary session of the fifth session of UNCTAD’s Intergovernmental Group of Experts on E-commerce and the Digital Economy introduced this year’s topic (Recovering from COVID-19 in an increasingly digital economy), this third session focused on “Lessons learned from policy responses to the pandemic”. The discussions focused on lessons that can be extracted from policy responses, particularly from the angle of the importance of digitalization and the increasing development lags resulting from digital divides between countries.

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Digital platforms, competition and data protection

This high-level panel discussed different perspectives for enhancing competition in digital markets and ensuring better data protection for users. Data and platformisation are the two main drivers of value creation in the digital era, as the business model of digital platforms heavily relies on data. Massive levels of data collection, storage, processing and use, as well as data-driven network effects and consumer inertia, enable the platforms to capture a significant amount of data. However, in the absence of real competitors, dominant firms tend to offer less privacy protection than they otherwise would. Consumers are forced to either use a service with poor privacy safeguards or forego the service altogether.

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Assessing the role of digital platforms in data governance and ethics

The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the global economy in a number of ways. In this regard, the e-commerce sector in particular has demonstrated a considerable level of growth. Online giants such as Amazon and Alibaba have seen an even greater upward trend compared to other companies, and they continue to thrive. But as this growth prevails, evaluating digital companies’ performance on data protection, cybersecurity, child online protection, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) ethics becomes a necessity. To do so, the Digital Inclusion Benchmark ranks their performances, help identify areas of improvement, and create a springboard for discussion involving companies, investors, regulators, and other stakeholders.

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Designing innovative data solutions for the global south

This session presented a set of capacity-building efforts and policy frameworks championned by the Datasphere Initiative, such as Datasphere Sandboxes and Datasphere Dialogues. These initiatives aim to help developing countries tackle some of the major challenges they are facing due to the exponential growth of data production and use, particularly on data governance, data sovereignty, data protection, and inclusion.

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Faster customs, faster trade – Digitizing cross-border trade procedures: learning from success stories

This session explored some of the successful digitally-enabled trade facilitation solutions adopted to expedite the movement of goods and support the economy, while coping with contingency measures in crisis situations. With digital trade being a priority on trade facilitation reform agendas worldwide, restrictions ensuing from the COVID-19 pandemic have now made contactless digital procedures an utmost necessity, hastening efforts to mainstream digital technologies in cross-border trade.

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Saudi Arabia: Infrastructure of e-commerce in Saudi Arabia

The session focused on the spread of online purchases from various e-commerce sites in Saudi Arabia. It was recalled that the country ranks 25th in the list of the largest e-commerce markets around the world, with revenues of $7 billion in 2020. Saudi Arabia is ahead of Thailand in the ranking and is just behind Belgium.

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Data flows and global trade regimes: Issues of inclusive development

At the centre of global digital trade regimes is the issue of cross-border data flows. While some countries see free data flows as a prerequisite for development and economic growth, others oppose unregulated global data flows pointing that it is resulting in near absolute concentration of data and digital power with a few digital corporations.

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How Can Women Digital Entrepreneurs Boost Inclusion? Peer learning dialogue across regions

The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the transition to a digital economy which has led to positive economic growth in several countries. However, many women are yet to reap the fruits of digitalisation. Many research papers have emphasised that women’s participation can and will lead to massive social and economic growth with one study claiming an increase of USD280 billion in South East Asian economies (International Finance Corporation report). This session engaged on the issue of the gender digital divide and sustainable development. It discussed good practices and outlook toward partnership-building at a regional and global level, to help increase women’s participation in the digital economy.

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Marketplace activity in Africa and South America: what new data shows

In this session, experts on Africa and South America explored the meaning and relevance of marketplaces in the uptake of electronic commerce. Discussions sought to understand how the trends can be explained looking at differences between the two regions, and how this understanding can be used to better frame policy and business decisions. It coincided with the launch of the first Latin-America wide dataset on ecommerce marketplace activity, the “Marketplace Explorer”, providing an opportunity to compare its findings with results found in Africa.

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Building best in class digital trade corridors

Digital trade is at the core of establishing more inclusive and dynamic trade practices. The United Kingdom (UK) and Singapore have recently entered a Digital Economy Agreement (DEA) that presents a host of opportunities for both countries. But it also presents multilateral benefits and sets an international precedent as noted by this session’s panelists. They discussed the importance and implications of the DEA framework, the opportunities it entails for businesses, and its scalability for other regions in the world. Emerging markets in particular can use it as an important foundation for setting the path to modern trade corridors. Indeed, speakers agreed that DEAs are a key oppotunity for the future of achieving greater sustainability and inclusiveness in trade.

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Potential of e-commerce to lessen the gender digital divide

Lack of available data on women’s participation in e-commerce may lead to inconclusive and ineffective policies and strategies, which in turn may hinder their involvement and growth. Tackling this issue, this session built on the findings of the Gender Digital Divide Index (GDDI) prepared by WinDt Consulting and DAKA Advisory to explore policy recommendations which could promote greater inclusivity in e-commerce. Discussions focused on improving digital transformation for women, by equipping them with digital skills and literacy for their participation in the e-commerce economy.

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Exploring a global framework for data governance

UNCTAD’s Digital Economy Report, 2021 recognised the intransigent positions of the countries supporting the total prohibition of data localisation requirements whilst committing the unfettered free flow of data across borders. In contrast, many developing countries believe regulating the data economy may not be conducive to building the digital capabilities and enhancing their technological development. The report recommended that to address the contrasting views of technologically-developed nations and those catching up, it is important to develop a global framework for data governance. In this context, the experts in this session shared their views on what this governance framework may look like.

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