UNCTAD eWeek 2023: Launch of the ESCAP-UNCTAD-UNIDO Asia-Pacific Trade and Investment Report 2023-2024

Statement by :
Rebeca Grynspan
Secretary-General of UNCTAD


Distinguished participants,

I welcome the launch of the Asia-Pacific Trade and Investment Report 2023-2024, under the leadership of UN ESCAP with UNCTAD and UNIDO.

This report’s main message is this: Digital trade holds a massive promise for Asia-Pacific countries.

The internet is reshaping how businesses, big and small, operate and grow all around the world.

Through digital trade, a small business in Manila, Ho Chi Min City or Busan can sell its goods and services basically anywhere in the world. This can turbocharge the Asia Pacific economy, promoting structural diversification, income, and job creation, while allowing for underrepresented groups such as a women and youth to engage in trade.

However, the benefits from digital trade do not arise automatically.

Businesses and individuals need access to networks and devices that are fast enough, reliable enough and affordable enough for any of this to happen.

The skills required go beyond basic digital literacy. It is one thing to navigate social media platforms like WhatsApp and Instagram, but quite another to manage digital transactions and harness the full potential of e-commerce platforms.

This involves not only technical know-how but also an understanding of digital marketing, customer service, and international trade regulations.

Moreover, a supportive regulatory environment is essential.

Clear laws must be established to secure online transactions, protect consumer rights, and fight against cybercrime.

Privacy concerns and data security are paramount in building trust. Customs procedures are also crucial for the smooth handling of digital goods.

In the Asia-Pacific region, as in other parts of the world, for some countries, these conditions are largely facts of life. But many others are lagging behind.

For example, the value of global exports of digitally deliverable services has more than tripled since 2010 in the Asia-Pacific region.

However, during the same period, the least developed countries’ share of global exports of digitally deliverable services has decreased from just a quarter of 1% to less than a fifth of 1%.

Asia-Pacific least developed countries accounted for less than 1% of the region’s exports of digitally deliverable services in 2022.

This is the opposite of what was intended by the target the world set itself in the SDGs.

With more and more trade becoming digital, it will become harder and harder for these countries to catch up.

At the same time, digital divides are giving way to data divides, and data divides are giving way to divides in artificial intelligence. Business as usual means that time is not on our side.

This is why efforts such as this report are crucial. Our report argues that the top policy priority is to help countries strengthen their capacities in e-commerce and the digital economy.

To this end, UNCTAD offers its eTrade for all initiative, which offers a valuable platform that now involves 35 organizations – including both UNESCAP and UNIDO.

Dear friends,

As we move forward, let us remember that digital trade is not just about technology. It is about people.

It’s about creating opportunities for everyone, regardless of their location or background.

The Asia-Pacific region has the potential to be a leader in digital trade, but only if we work together to ensure that no one is left behind. Let us embrace this challenge with commitment and optimism.

Thank you.

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