eTrade for all

WTO Public Forum 2021

This year’s WTO Public Forum, to be held from 28 September to 1 October 2021, will look at the effects of COVID-19 on trade and how the multilateral trading system can help build resilience to the pandemic and future crises. Under the main theme, “Trade beyond COVID-19: Building Resilience”, the Public Forum’s sub-themes were “Enhancing Resilience beyond COVID-19”, “Strengthening the Multilateral Trading System” and “Collective Action towards Sustainable Trade”.

Here are some hand-picked sessions related to e-commerce and the digital economy:

TradeTech for inclusive and sustainable trade

World Economic Forum (WEF) & World Trade Organization (WTO)
28 SEPTEMBER 2021, 16:35-17:35 Geneva time

The next generation of trade growth will come from integrating new technologies into trade – both in supply chains and in trade facilitation. Under the auspices of the WEF, business leaders and public stakeholders came together last year to kick off the conversation on TradeTech globally. As a second phase of this project, the WTO and WEF are providing a space for this community to identify regulatory gaps in trade policy and trade agreements that deserve attention as to facilitate further TradeTech adoption. In addition to efficiency gains, TradeTech should help maximize sustainable development. This session presented insights on TradeTech and options for a cutting-edge trade agenda.

Digital trade for economic recovery in developing countries

Interamerican Development Bank (IDB) & International Trade Centre (ITC)
29 SEPTEMBER 2021 — 15:00-16:00 Geneva time

This working session discussed Digital Trade for Economic Recovery in Developing Countries, analyzing how technology can enable countries to integrate into the global digital trade value chain and build resilience in the post-pandemic world. The panel of experts were from international organizations, government authorities, and the private sector to address the key challenges and opportunities presented by digital trade frameworks and policies throughout and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

Digital trade governance for development: Implementation challenges and technical assistance needs

World Bank Group & United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)
30 SEPTEMBER 2021 — 11:30-12:30 Geneva time

Informed by key findings from the World Bank Group’s flagship 2021 World Development Report entitled Data for Better Lives, this working session addressed the development dimensions of digital trade and the needs of low-and-middle-income countries for international support to build their capacity to engage in and benefit from e-commerce and the digital economy. This session first discussed the development dimensions of digital governance before considering possible implementation challenges and the technical assistance support that may help realize the development opportunities associated with global e-commerce norms under discussion among WTO members.

Conditions for appropriate e-commerce in developing countries

UNCTAD & South Center
30 SEPTEMBER 2021 — 13:30-14:30 Geneva time

Trade talks are ongoing at the WTO towards a plurilateral agreement on e-commerce. While transnational corporations are calling for a free flow of data, India, South Africa and some other developing countries, and even the EU, seek to establish data sovereignty. They are presenting new policies in this regard, including with data localisation requirements. Does there exist an in-between solution that would be best for developing countries? How should digital trade and data laws be designed for inclusion and poverty reduction? What could be WTO’s role in achieving this goal?

Services and innovation: The future is digital

30 SEPTEMBER 2021 — 15:00-16:00 Geneva time

The panel explored ways in which innovation policy issues intersect with trade policy especially regarding development and harmonization of standards as accelerators for digitally-enabled trade in services and cross-border data flows. In the digital age, adoption of international standards can accelerate the use of digital technologies at different stages of the supply chain, which in turn can increase the scope, speed and scale of trade. For businesses, especially SMEs, there is a need to reduce regulatory compliance costs and other constraints to firm flexibility including for rapid business model adaptation for the digital age. Interoperability of digital standards and regulations is becoming all the more important.

Designing digital trade provisions in the AfCFTA: Lessons from existing trade agreements

United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA)
30 SEPTEMBER 2021 — 16:30-17:30 Geneva time

This session aims to identify and articulate digital trade priorities of the African private sector to trade negotiators and policymakers, particularly given the rapid acceleration of e-commerce post-COVID 19 globally. The panel brings together international experts and high-level policymakers to present and discuss new evidence on the a) implications of current e-commerce proposals in practical terms for African businesses, particularly SMEs; b) priorities of an AfCFTA e-commerce protocol, as identified by the African private sector itself; and c) design of digital trade provisions in existing trade agreements and lessons AfCFTA can draw from this in developing a comprehensive and inclusive e-commerce protocol that works for SMEs, youth and women.

Data as a stock-in-trade in global trade: Looking beyond outdated notions around data flows

South Centre
01 OCTOBER 2021 — 10:00-11:00 Geneva time

Data is universally spoken of as the key economic resource today. Strangely enough, this is not the way data is treated in global digital trade discussions. This paradox is the reason for the global stalemate on the ‘data issue’, inadequately represented as a contest between ‘data flows’ and ‘data constraints’, respectively as good and bad things. Progress can only be made by bringing centre-stage in ‘e-com discussions’ data’s nature as a prime economic resource in a digital economy. Continually discussing data only in terms of privacy, security, trade facilitation, etc., is no longer adequate. Earlier mostly a developing countries’ concern, recent policy developments in some developed countries also highlight the need for focusing directly on economic dimensions of data at the WTO. This Working Session seeks to do so by bringing in experts from both the South and the North.

Mainstreaming the COVID-19 recovery: The importance of supporting women entrepreneurs, MSMEs and digital trade

International Trade Centre (ITC)
01 OCTOBER 2021 — 11:30-12:30 Geneva time

This session provides insights into the experience of women entrepreneurs on the ground during the pandemic, with an emphasis on digitalization as well as what governments can do to support them. Speakers from the ITC, Colombia, Nigeria and Uruguay shares how gender and digitalisation is factored into planning for the post COVID-19 recovery.

Digitalization for development: Benefits for MSMEs in developing countries

01 OCTOBER 2021 — 13:30-14:30 Geneva time

The importance of e-commerce has grown immensely over the past decade. The COVID-19 Pandemic has only given further impetus to these developments. Although some existing WTO rules apply to digital trade, more needs to be done to make WTO rules fit for 21st century trade. This session in a vibrant, interactive and dynamic way discussed the concrete benefits that the JSI on e-commerce may provide for entrepreneurs, in particular for MSMEs in developing countries.

Full programme :