WTO

WTO DG Azevêdo calls on international community to ensure nobody is left behind in digital era

WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo has called on the international community to ensure that the digital revolution underway is fully inclusive and leaves nobody behind. Speaking at a Public Forum session entitled “E-commerce 2030: Enabling an inclusive future for e-commerce”, DG Azevêdo stressed that e-commerce provides a springboard to overcome some of the traditional obstacles to trade but warned that without the right approach the big players could easily dominate this market at the expense of smaller business.

DG Azevêdo calls on international community to ensure nobody is left behind in digital era DG Azevêdo calls on international community to ensure nobody is left behind in digital era

The session was organised as part of the ‘Enabling E-commerce’ initiative which was launched by the Electronic World Trade Platform and the World Economic Forum together with the WTO on the margins of the 11th WTO Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires in December 2017. The initiative aims to galvanize debate on e-commerce issues among a wide range of stakeholders, encouraging the sharing of ideas and best practice. DG Azevêdo was joined at the session by Borge Brende, President of the World Economic Forum, Jack Ma, representing the Electronic World Trade Platform, UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi, Ambassador Robert Dufter Salama of Malawi and Ambassador Frances Lisson of Australia.

“E-commerce 2030: Enabling an inclusive future for e-commerce”

Remarks by DG Azevêdo

Hello everybody – good afternoon.

Welcome to this panel session on ‘Enabling an Inclusive Future for Electronic Commerce’.

‘Inclusive’ is the key word here.

It’s great to have you here today. At the outset, let me thank the World Economic Forum and the Electronic World Trade Platform for their help in organising today’s event.

At the WTO’s Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires last December we joined forces with these two bodies to launch the ‘Enabling E-commerce’ initiative.

Our aim is to facilitate a deeper debate on e-commerce issues among a wide range of stakeholders, encouraging the sharing of ideas and best practices. We want to broaden opportunities for smaller players, entrepreneurs and regular citizens.

So I am pleased that Jack Ma and Borge Brende are here with us today.

And I’m also very pleased to be joined by Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi, Ambassador Robert Dufter Salama of Malawi and Ambassador Frances Lisson of Australia.

So in a moment I will ask my two Enabling E-commerce partners to give opening remarks summing up their activities in this area so far. And then we’ll move to our more interactive debate with the whole panel.

It’s clear that the internet and new technologies are revolutionizing our lives. If you have a phone, you are now connected to a global marketplace.

In this way, e-commerce provides a springboard to overcome some of the traditional obstacles to trade. It has reduced the trade costs associated with physical distance. And it has given consumers access to a broader selection of products, from a wider range of suppliers.

But without the right approach, the big players could easily dominate this market at the expense of smaller businesses.

If we cross our arms and do nothing, that is precisely what is going to happen.

Poorer countries could also be left behind. We know that around 4 billion people do not yet have internet access – and of course this is concentrated in developing and least-developed economies.

But even when you are connected, there are still many other barriers.

We need also the right policy infrastructure, such as regulatory and payment systems – as well as the appropriate skills and expertise.

So if we want this digital revolution to be inclusive, we have to work on all of these areas. And I think we need two things:

  • One, we need a more focused debate which identifies more precisely where the gaps are, and where action could be required.
  • And, two, we need a major collaborative effort that brings together governments, labour, consumers and business, including small and large companies, from developed and developing countries.

There is a responsibility on the whole international community to ensure that nobody is left behind.

And it is positive that many WTO members are taking up that challenge.

At our Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires last year, there was a significant focus on e-commerce.

WTO members took some important actions there – which follow two distinct tracks.

On the multilateral track, members agreed to continue work under the existing Work Programme on Electronic Commerce. And they agreed to extend until 2019 the moratorium for customs duties on electronic transmissions. Members now need to determine the way forward for this work.

In addition, a group of 71 WTO members signed a Joint Statement on E-Commerce. This statement committed them to start exploratory work towards future WTO negotiations on this issue.

The signatories include LDCs, developing and developed members – including major players like the US, EU, Brazil, Nigeria, Korea and others.

In fact, these 71 members represent around 77% of global trade.

This was a major milestone. And, while some are not in a position to support this initiative, it is clearly evolving fast. It is already providing an important forum to discuss how initiatives under the WTO can help spread the opportunities that e-commerce offers.

We are also seeing a growing number of requests for technical assistance on e-commerce. Members are keen to learn more about the history of these discussions in the WTO and the recent views and submissions.

So we have been delivering that training.

And of course we continue to work with other international organisations to this end – including through encouraging other efforts in this area, such as UNCTAD’s eTrade for All initiative.

I also think the business community had a key role in bringing this debate to life.

They have the technical expertise and first-hand experience that governments can sometimes lack. And in this highly complex and fast-moving area, I think tapping into that knowledge is essential.

We have been pleased to facilitate a number of meetings with business here at the WTO, as part of our Trade Dialogues series.

The most recent session was held in June of this year – initiated by the International Chamber of Commerce and the B20. And that meeting actually led to a statement of business priorities which was published earlier today. I urge you all to take a look.

It lists a range of e-commerce issues which business would like to see addressed at the WTO such as: cross border data flows, data localization requirements and consumer protection. It also makes the case for continued work to implement the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement and for a potential further expansion of the WTO’s Information Technology Agreement.

This is just to list a few of their priorities at random – without any judgement given on my part. Indeed, clearly some of these points are more controversial than others. Nevertheless, it’s welcome that this kind of detailed and proactive thinking is being done.

I also know that the World Economic Forum and the Electronic World Trade Platform have been doing some excellent work along these same lines.

We are all pushing in the same direction, so it’s a pleasure to bring these efforts together under the banner of Enabling E-commerce.

I hope that we can continue to shed light into what is a very exciting area.

Thank you all for listening.

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