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The Commonwealth Secretariat is working to support its 54 member states to harness the benefits of the digital economy and to deal with the inherent challenges posed by rapid digital transformation.
The Commonwealth Connectivity Agenda (CCA) provides a focal point for this work. It is a member state-led initiative that was unanimously adopted by the 54 Commonwealth Heads of Government when they met for their last summit in 2018. It aims to raise intra-Commonwealth trade to US $2 trillion by 2030. The Digital Connectivity Cluster – one of five multi-sectoral public-private CCA working groups – is supporting the development of national digital economies in the Commonwealth. This is being achieved through activities to promote understanding of the impact of digital transformation; support capacity-constrained members to create a strong environment for digital trade and industry; develop the evidence base on policies that enable digital skills development, digital trade and digital industrial development; and develop principles to support digital connectivity in the Commonwealth.
Under the coordination of the Secretariat, these efforts are complemented by initiatives in other CCA working groups supporting the digital economy. This includes work to improve the investment environment for digital infrastructure and to exchange views and experience on the use of digital technologies through smart agriculture and fisheries.
The Commonwealth Secretariat has also developed a number of knowledge products to support member states as they engage with issues relevant to e-commerce and the digital economy. These include a flagship study on the State of the Digital Economy in the Commonwealth (published in February 2020) and a soon-to-be-launched online Repository of Digital Policies and Regulations with information covering all 54 Commonwealth member states. The latter will help countries to identify common approaches, options for policy reform and best practices in the digital space.
The Secretariat is also actively facilitating peer-to-peer learning among policymakers through sharing best practices and information on policy interventions that have worked and those that have not.
Developing countries face significant challenges related to disparities in access and opportunity within the digital economy. In the Commonwealth, new opportunities created by e-commerce are only being realised by a small number of Commonwealth countries. For example, in 2015, just six countries accounted for 85% of the Commonwealth’s total business-to-consumer e-commerce sales. There is also significant variation in the extent to which firms and consumers engage with digital technologies and e-commerce platforms across countries.
Many of these issues stem from the presence of significant digital divides within and between countries, some of which are accentuated across gender or rural and urban divides. For example, individuals and firms in some developing countries tend to be hamstrung by deficiencies in the quality of, and access to, digital infrastructure, high internet costs and limited access to basic digital technologies, underdeveloped regulatory frameworks for the digital era and limited digital skills.
If e-commerce is to produce benefits for inclusive and sustainable development in developing countries, effective policy responses are required to address these challenges and manage the potentially disruptive impacts of digitalisation on different segments of society.
There are a number of synergies between the initiative and the Secretariat’s work, especially in relation to the emphasis on exchanging experiences and best practices to leverage e-commerce in developing countries. The initiative provides an excellent platform from which to engage with key partners to share knowledge and tap into their expertise related to e-commerce and digital trade for the benefit of Commonwealth member states.
There are also important parallels between the focus areas of the initiative and the Commonwealth Secretariat’s work to support the development of e-commerce strategies in our member states. The Secretariat thus views the multi-stakeholder partnership as an innovative initiative that can play a key role in producing tangible gains in enhancing the ability of developing countries to engage more effectively with, and benefit from, e-commerce and the digital economy.
The Commonwealth Secretariat is honoured to be joining the eTrade for all community. We look forward to engaging and interacting with its varied and distinguished stakeholders, and contributing to its efforts to enable more businesses and people to benefit from e-commerce and the digital economy.