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UNCTAD helps Côte d’Ivoire’s digital entrepreneurs weather COVID-19 crisis

An assessment of the e-commerce ecosystem in Côte d’Ivoire will help businesses in the sector adapt to COVID-19 challenges and comply with new regulations.

UNCTAD’s eTrade readiness assessment of Côte d’Ivoire, launched on 8 April, will help the country’s e-commerce businesses better adapt to the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and comply with new regulations, according to one of the country’s leading digital entrepreneurs.

Patricia Yao, founder and chief executive officer of QuickCash, a platform providing mobile payment services to rural customers, said the assessment would help policymakers and businesses better understand the impact of COVID-19 on the sector.

“The assessment will help us adapt the responses of the digital ecosystem in Côte d’Ivoire, taking into account the challenges and opportunities raised by the current crisis,” said Ms. Yao, UNCTAD’s e-Trade for Women Advocate for west Africa.

Progress and challenges

The assessment found that Côte d’Ivoire has made significant progress in recent years to improve access to the digital economy and e-commerce.

The country’s digital economy program is integrated into its national development plan and includes the digitalization of a series of financial as well as government services.

It also includes and the expansion of critical information and communications technology infrastructure, with the implementation of a national broadband network project.

Despite these important strides, and its relatively vibrant economy, Côte d’Ivoire needs to tackle the challenges hindering its e-commerce growth.

These include costly and limited internet access, inefficient physical addresses, low public awareness on online commerce and limited digital skills of micro, small- and medium-sized businesses to effectively engage in e-commerce activities.

“It’s important to take priority actions to accelerate digital transformation in Côte d’Ivoire and allow e-commerce players to seize available opportunities. This is especially important in the wake of COVID-19 and in an increasingly integrated west African region,” said UNCTAD Acting Secretary-General Isabelle Durant.

“The valuable recommendations of this report will provide an important framework for future policy action, with a view to accelerating e-commerce uptake in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said  the country’s trade and industry minister, Souleymane Diarrassouba.

Consultative process

The assessment report is a product of a consultative process that brought together representatives of the government, the private sector and development partners.

Ms. Yao said the assessment’s multi-stakeholder approach would facilitate the implementation of future regulations and policies.

“By bringing all the concerned actors around the table, it will be easier to implement new measures because they have been previously discussed and agreed upon,” she said. “In the past, when new laws were adopted, they were difficult to comply with because those affected hadn’t been involved in their formulation.”

The assessment was funded by the German government and prepared in cooperation with the Universal Postal Union, International Trade Centre and Consumers International.

UNCTAD has conducted such assessments in 27 countries, fostering coordination and dialogue between various stakeholders and helping them overcome structural barriers to make e-commerce an engine of inclusive and sustainable development.

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WTO

Heads of WTO member delegations today exchanged views about issues on which they can realistically reach agreements in the run-up to the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) later this year, and what needs to happen to make such deals possible. Fisheries subsidies, agriculture and the COVID-19 pandemic featured prominently in the discussions, with several members stressing that delivering concrete negotiated results was critical for the WTO’s credibility. The 3 May gathering was both a formal session of the Trade Negotiations Committee and an informal meeting of Heads of Delegation.

 

Summing up members’ interventions at the end of the day, WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said what she had heard matched what she had been told in her own consultations: “Views are coalescing around the most feasible priorities for delivery between now and MC12 — although of course there are gaps on how we get there and on the content of prospective results.”

She said three concrete deliverables stood out: an agreement to curb harmful fisheries subsidies; outcomes on agriculture, with a focus on food security; and a framework that would better equip the WTO to support efforts against the COVID-19 pandemic and future health crises.

Looking to the weeks and months ahead, the Director-General expressed hope that by July members would be able to finalize an agreement on fisheries subsidies and achieve clarity about what can be delivered by MC12, scheduled to run from 30 November to 3 December in Geneva.

On fisheries subsidies, she urged members to exercise the necessary flexibility to overcome the remaining hurdles. With ministerial involvement likely required to finalize an agreement in July, she called on delegations to work with the chair of the negotiations, Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia, to prepare a draft negotiating text with a minimal number of outstanding issues for ministers to resolve. “We are almost there, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” she said, stressing she stood ready to help members and the chair translate increased flexibility into an agreement.

Noting that for many members, meaningful outcomes on agriculture were necessary to make MC12 a success, DG Okonjo-Iweala said that the pandemic, and rising hunger around the world, made a strong case for a WTO “food security package”. Elements for a prospective package included public stockholding, the proposed exemption from export restrictions of World Food Programme humanitarian purchases, domestic support and transparency, with some delegations also raising cotton and the special safeguard mechanism.

The Director-General welcomed the view expressed by many delegations that MC12 can deliver concrete responses on trade and health. The WTO’s spotlight on export restrictions and the need to increase vaccine production volumes was gaining attention and engagement from leaders, she said.

Reporting on a 14 April event where vaccine manufacturers, international organizations, civil society and members looked at how the WTO could contribute to efforts to combat the global scarcity of COVID-19 vaccines, she said it was clear that underused manufacturing capacity existed in several developing countries.

DG Okonjo-Iweala praised members’ support to India amid the upsurge in COVID-19 cases there, which followed India’s own exports of a large number of vaccines. “That is what the WTO membership should be about — working together, supporting each other,” she said. She asked members to bring the same sense of common purpose to bear on engaging in text-based negotiations on the TRIPS waiver proposal aimed at finding a pragmatic compromise that works for all.

With regard to dispute settlement, where many members called for resolution to the impasse over the Appellate Body, the Director-General expressed hope that by MC12 members “can reach a shared understanding on the types of reforms needed”.

The General Council chair, Ambassador Dacio Castillo of Honduras, is consulting on proposals about issues specific to least-developed countries such as the G-90 proposals on special and differential treatment as well as on small economies and areas such as the e-commerce Work Programme, she said.

She noted that groups of members had signalled a desire to move ahead in areas such as services domestic regulation, e-commerce, investment facilitation, women’s economic empowerment, micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises as well as issues related to trade and climate change.

For issues not in a position to be concluded this year, the Director-General said members had called for post-MC12 work programmes on multilateral issues relating to agriculture, services, and special and differential treatment as well as in joint statement initiatives in areas including plastics pollution and environmental sustainability.

DG Okonjo-Iweala said that in the coming days, she would intensify her own outreach with heads of delegation, organizing meetings “in various configurations large and small” to support the chairs of negotiating groups in their efforts to broker compromise among members. She reiterated her commitment to ensuring adequate representation and transparency in these meetings. “Nothing will be done behind closed doors that people don’t know about,” she emphasised. She indicated that she would work closely with the General Council chair and the chairs of the negotiating bodies as well as MC12 chair Kazakhstan to conduct these meetings.

Emphasising the tight timeframe for members to resolve their outstanding differences, the Director-General said the “path to July” would involve a large number of intensive meetings aimed at narrowing gaps. “Week in, week out, this is what we will do now.”

Heads of WTO member delegations today exchanged views about issues on which they can realistically reach agreements in the run-up to the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) later this year, and what needs to happen to...

ECA

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit hard the economies of many African countries, and pushed many more citizens into poverty, but some countries like Rwanda and Togo have used digitization to keep their economies running.

Speaking during the launch of a Pan-African peer exchange series on the benefits of responsible digital government payments, the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Ms. Vera Songwe said the pandemic had a huge toll on African economies with GDP growth estimated to have dropped from 3.3% in 2019 to -2.6% in 2020. It is, however, anticipated that growth would return to 3.3% in 2021.

The ECA further estimates that about 100 million people have been pushed into poverty by the pandemic, Ms. Songwe said, adding the scars of COVID-19 were going to ‘remain with us for a very long time’.

Digitization, the ECA Chief said, presented opportunities for African countries to lift the poor out of poverty.

“Digitizing tax payments and related processes can raise additional resources for African governments to fight COVID-19 and help move countries back to growth,” said Ms. Songwe in opening remarks during the launch of the series that will see policymakers sharing challenges and successes and set a high bar for what can be accomplished on the continent through digitization of government payments.

“As economies digitalize, the benefits from digital payments and e-commerce multiply, thereby accelerating recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, sustaining development, and facilitating achievement of the sustainable development goals, through taxes and wages, among others.”

The ECA has been in the forefront, nudging African countries to turn to and accelerate digitization to not only keep their economies running, but to also respond to the rise in poverty among marginalized citizens.

 Ms. Songwe congratulated Togo and Rwanda for using digitization to manage the pandemic in a way that would have been impossible if there were no digital platforms, including social protection cash payments to cushion citizens from the effects of the crisis.

Sharing her country’s experience of using digital cash transfers to citizens during the pandemic, Ms. Cina Lawson, Togo’s Postal Affairs and Digital Economy Minister, said they built a USSD platform in 10 days, and people who registered, didn’t need Internet connection to connect.

“We had 1. 6 million Togolese registering on this platform. From onboarding to receiving cash, it was all digital. If the platform deemed you eligible, you would straight away receive an SMS with the money. It takes a minute from onboarding to receiving cash,” she said.

The number of people who registered onto the platform represented about 44% of the population, and 840,000 people became beneficiaries, which is approximately 22% of all Togolese, explained Ms. Lawson.

She said the platform guaranteed transparency as transactions were traceable. An independent firm was hired to audit the transfers daily. The country is using the same platform to register citizens for COVID-19 vaccinations.

For his part, Rwanda’s Minister of State, National Treasury, Mr. Richard Tusabe, in sharing his country’s experience with digitization, spoke about the ‘Ejoheza savings scheme’, an inclusive scheme which targets both salaried and non-salaried workers and has a social component. He said about 95% of Rwandan citizens are not covered in any pension scheme hence the need for the savings scheme which came in handy during the pandemic.

“So, to capture the 95 per cent to start to save and be able to retire with dignity, Ejoheza was started in December 2018. It is also a USSD platform. The government then set up a matching fund, and when you save up to $18, the government gives you a matching equivalent,” said Mr. Tusabe.

The two ministers shared experiences, challenges, and good practices and undertook to keep learning from each other’s experiences in using digital innovations to improve the productivity of businesses and ensure positive economy-wide benefits.

In her remarks, Ms. Ruth Goodwin-Groen, Managing Director of the United Nation’s Better Than Cash Alliance, commended the two countries saying; “This is what we need. You understood what your citizens needed, and you responded quickly with responsible digital payments.”

Ms. Goodwin-Groen lauded the partnership with the ECA to launch the series, adding this was a unique opportunity for governments to convene and collaborate by sharing experiences, challenges, and key learnings from responsibly digitizing payments.

The launch will be followed by a series of three round-table workshops over the next two months for policymakers only. Each round-table workshop is specifically designed to focus on a critical aspect of digital government payment, such as Government to People (G2P) and People to Government (P2G), for example tax, pension, and health care. The final session will share insights and recommendations from the workshop participants and will be an open session.

Click here to access the series launch recording: https://youtu.be/xQDqcEqZjNk

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit hard the economies of many African countries, and pushed many more citizens into poverty, but some countries like Rwanda and Togo have used digitization to keep their economies running.

Speaking during...

UNCTAD

The pandemic has, however, resulted in mixed fortunes for some e-commerce companies, reversing the profits of firms offering services such as ride-hailing and travel.

The dramatic rise in e-commerce amid movement restrictions induced by COVID-19 increased online retail sales’ share of total retail sales from 16% to 19% in 2020, according to estimates in an UNCTAD report published on 3 May.

UNCTAD released the report as it hosted a two-day meeting on measuring e-commerce and the digital economy.

According to the report, online retail sales grew markedly in several countries, with the Republic of Korea reporting the highest share at 25.9% in 2020, up from 20.8% the year before (Table 1).

Meanwhile, global e-commerce sales jumped to $26.7 trillion globally in 2019, up 4% from 2018, according to the latest available estimates.

This includes business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) sales, and is equivalent to 30% of global gross domestic product (GDP) that year.

“These statistics show the growing importance of online activities. They also point to the need for countries, especially developing ones, to have such information as they rebuild their economies in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Shamika Sirimanne, UNCTAD’s director of technology and logistics.

 

Table 1: Online retail sales, selected economies, 2018-2020

Economy Online retail sales

($ billions)

Retail sales

($ billions)

Online share

(% of retail sales)

2018 2019 2020 2018 2019 2020 2018 2019 2020
Australia 13.5 14.4 22.9 239 229 242 5.6 6.3 9.4
Canada 13.9 16.5 28.1 467 462 452 3.0 3.6 6.2
China 1,060.4 1,233.6 1,414.3 5,755 5,957 5,681 18.4 20.7 24.9
Korea (Rep.) 76.8 84.3 104.4 423 406 403 18.2 20.8 25.9
Singapore 1.6 1.9 3.2 34 32 27 4.7 5.9 11.7
United Kingdom 84.0 89.0 130.6 565 564 560 14.9 15.8 23.3
United States 519.6 598.0 791.7 5,269 5,452 5,638 9.9 11.0 14.0
Economies above 1,770 2,038 2,495 12,752 13,102 13,003 14 16 19

Source: UNCTAD, based on national statistics offices.

 

Mixed fortunes for some firms

The COVID-19 pandemic has also resulted in mixed fortunes for leading B2C e-commerce companies, according to the UNCTAD report.

Data for the top 13 e-commerce firms, 11 of which are from China and the United States, shows a notable reversal of fortunes for platform companies offering services such as ride-hailing and travel (Table 2).

All of them experienced sharp declines in gross merchandize value (GMV) and corresponding drops in ranks.

For instance, Expedia fell from 5th place in 2019 to 11th in 2020, Booking Holdings from 6th to 12th and Airbnb, which launched its initial public offering in 2020, from 11th to 13th.

Despite the reduction in services companies’ GMV, total GMV for the top 13 B2C e-commerce companies rose by 20.5% in 2020, higher than in 2019 (17.9%). There were particularly large gains for Shopify (up 95.6%) and Walmart (72.4%). Overall, B2C GMV for the top 13 companies stood at $2.9 trillion in 2020.

 

Table 2: Top B2C e-commerce companies by GMV, 2020

Rank by GMV Company HQ Industry GMV

($ billions)

GMV change

(%)

2020 2019 2018 2019 2020 2018-19 2019-20
1 1 Alibaba China E-commerce 866 954    1,145 10.2 20.1
2 2 Amazon USA E-commerce 344 417 575 21.0 38.0
3 3 JD.com China E-commerce 253 302 379 19.1 25.4
4 4 Pinduoduo China E-commerce 71 146 242 104.4 65.9
5 9 Shopify Canada Internet Media & Services 41 61 120 48.7 95.6
6 7 eBay USA E-commerce 90 86 100 -4.8 17.0
7 10 Meituan China E-commerce 43 57 71 33.0 24.6
8 12 Walmart USA Consumer goods retail 25 37 64 47.0 72.4
9 8 Uber USA Internet Media & Services 50 65 58 30.5 -10.9
10 13 Rakuten Japan E-commerce 30 34 42 13.6 24.2
11 5 Expedia USA Internet Media & Services 100 108 37 8.2 -65.9
12 6 Booking Holdings USA Internet Media & Services 93 96 35 4.0 -63.3
13 11 Airbnb USA Internet Media & Services 29 38 24 29.3 -37.1
Companies above 2,035 2,399 2,890 17.9 20.5

Source:  UNCTAD based on company reports.
Note: Alibaba year beginning 1 April, Walmart year beginning 1 February. Figures in italics are estimates. GMV = Gross Merchandize Value (as well as Booking Value).

 

Business-to-business sales dominate e-commerce

The report estimates the value of global B2B e-commerce in 2019 at $21.8 trillion, representing 82% of all e-commerce, including both sales over online market platforms and electronic data interchange (EDI) transactions.

The United States continued to dominate the overall e-commerce market, ahead of Japan and China (Table 3).

B2C e-commerce sales were estimated at $4.9 trillion in 2019, up 11% over 2018. The top three countries by B2C e-commerce sales remained China, the United States and the United Kingdom.

Cross-border B2C e-commerce amounted to some $440 billion in 2019, an increase of 9% over 2018. The UNCTAD report also notes that the share of online shoppers making cross-border purchases rose from 20% in 2017 to 25% in 2019.

 

Table 3: E-commerce sales: Top 10 countries, 2019

Rank Economy Total e-commerce sales

($ billions)

Share of total e-commerce sales in GDP (%) B2B e-commerce sales

($ billions)

Share of B2B e-commerce sales in total e-commerce (%) B2C e-commerce sales

($ billions)

1 United States 9,580 45   8,319 87   1,261
2 Japan 3,416 67   3,238 95      178
3 China 2,604 18   1,065 41   1,539
4 Korea (Rep.) 1,302 79   1,187 91      115
5 United Kingdom     885 31      633 72      251
6 France     785 29      669 85      116
7 Germany     524 14      413 79      111
8 Italy     431 22      396 92        35
9 Australia     347 25      325 94        21
10 Spain     344 25      280 81        64
10 above 20,218 36 16,526 82   3,691
World 26,673 30 21,803   4,870

Source: UNCTAD, based on national sources.
Note: Figures in italics are UNCTAD estimates.

 

E-commerce firms perform poorly in digital inclusion

Despite e-commerce firms’ sizeable fortunes, an index released by the World Benchmarking Alliance in December last year rated them poorly on digital inclusion.

The index ranked 100 digital companies, including 14 e-commerce firms, based on how they contribute to access to digital technologies, building digital skills, enhancing trust and fostering innovation.

E-commerce enterprises underperformed compared to companies in other digital industries such as hardware or telecommunication services.

For instance, the highest-ranked e-commerce company was eBay at 49th place. Overall, e-commerce companies obtained a score of just 20 out of a possible 100.

According to the UNCTAD report, a main factor for the poor performance is that e-commerce companies are relatively young, typically founded only in the last two decades.

“These firms have been more focused on shareholders rather than engaging with a wide group of stakeholders and compiling metrics on their environmental, social and governance performance,” the report says.

Nonetheless, there are some bright spots. For instance, several e-commerce companies provide free training to entrepreneurs on how to sell online including in some cases, specifically targeted at vulnerable groups such as people with disabilities or ethnic minorities.

The pandemic has, however, resulted in mixed fortunes for some e-commerce companies, reversing the profits of firms offering services such as ride-hailing and travel.

The dramatic rise in e-commerce amid movement restrictions induced by COVID-19 increased...

UN

2022 E-Government Survey – Preparatory Process

Member States Questionnaire (MSQ) for the United Nations E-Government Survey 2022
Please click here to download Member State Questionnaire 2022 (MSQ) form

Purpose
In preparation for the UN E-government Survey 2022 and with the aim to improve the Survey and its methodology, UN DESA is organizing consultation sessions with stakeholders to gather feedback and suggestions for the UN E-Government Survey 2022.

The dates for the sessions will be structured as per different time zones and respective regions:

  • 5th May 2021: 12PM Standard GMT (Global during the WSIS Forum 2021)
  • 15th May 2021: 2AM Standard GMT (for Asia Pacific) (14th May 2021, 10PM EST)
  • 17th May 2021: 6PM Standard GMT (for the Americas) (2PM EST)
  • 24th May 2021: 12PM Standard GMT (for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa) (8AM EST)

Call for inputs by UN Member States:
Submit by May 31st, 2021 by filling out the online form at https://bit.ly/3mNTHj0

About the Survey
Since its inception in 2001 by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, theSurvey has become an indispensable ranking, mapping and measuring development tool for digital ministers, policymakers and analysts delving into comparative analysis and contemporary research on e-government. The Survey assesses global and regional e-government development through a
comparative rating of national government portals relative to one another. It is designed to provide a snapshot of country trends and relative rankings of e-government development in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

About the Methodology
The Survey tracks progress of e-government development via the United Nations E-Government Development Index (EGDI). The EGDI, which assesses e-government development at the national level, is a composite index based on the weighted average of three normalized indices. One-third is derived from the Telecommunications Infrastructure Index (TII), one-third from the Human Capital Index (HCI), and one-third from the Online Service Index (OSI)the latter based on data collected from
an independent Online Service Questionnaire (OSQ), conducted by UNDESA, which assesses the national online presence of all 193 United Nations Member States, complemented by a Member State Questionnaire (MSQ). The Survey also includes the E-Participation Index (EPI), a supplementary index to the United Nations E-Government Survey focusing on the government use of online services
through “e-information sharing”, “e-consultation” and “e-decision-making” and the Local Online Services Index (LOSI), a study assessing progress made in local e-government development through the e-government portals of cities.

2022 E-Government Survey – Preparatory Process

Member States Questionnaire (MSQ) for the United Nations E-Government Survey 2022
Please click here to download Member State Questionnaire 2022 (MSQ) form

Purpose
In preparation for the UN...

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