Private sector views on priorities for e-commerce

24 Apr 2017 02:00h

Event report

Ms Kati Suominen, Founder and CEO of Nextrade Group, LLC, started the panel by highlighting the importance of the private sector as the engine of e-commerce. She also called attention to the ‘Business for eTrade development platform’, which is the private sector counterpart of the eTrade for All initiative.

Mr Daniel Crosby, Partner at King and Spalding, explained the priority actions of the business for eTrade development.

  • Provide business insights on what drives e-commerce for development; the different negotiating positions and what countries want to achieve. 
  • Reinforce legal certainly by understanding how existing rules relate to e-commerce.
  • Assess where countries stand in terms of enabling e-commerce and the areas they need to improve.
  • How to include more business from developing and least developed countries in the initiative.

According to Mr Ralph Carter, Managing Director of Trade and International Affairs, FedEx Express, e-commerce is, at the same time a great equaliser and a great disruptor. It opens global markets, for example, while it disrupts traditional retail, wholesale and distribution industries. Today’s e-commerce has moved from containers to small packets, but the administrative cost of shipping these two different things is almost the same, which is not economically sustainable. 

Dialogue and global norms that would create an enabling environment are needed. The priorities for FedEx in the present context are the following: a) the implementation of the Trade Facilitation Agreement, which should be used to promote e-commerce; b) capacity building related to e-commerce implementation measures; c) Implementing WCO guidelines (e.g. non-dutiable, de minimis, low value goods); d) account-based payment, removed from the border.

Mr M. A. Mannan, President and CEO of TCS Holdings, Pakistan, said that although the private sector will always find a way of making their businesses grow, partnerships between the public and private sectors can be positive. The goals of the public sector and the goals of the private sector seem to be aligned in the discussion of e-commerce. With e-commerce, the private sector is helping the poorer, the women and the SMEs. Governments aim to support these segments of society too. He concluded by suggesting that the ‘e’ in e-commerce should not relate to ‘electronic’, but to ‘everyone’.

Mr Mostafizur Rahaman Sohel, Director of the Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services, commented on how digital commerce activities empower women. They conduct business through informal channels, such as Facebook, and this is a way towards financial independence. He highlighted some challenges, such as connectivity issues and interoperability of payment systems. 

Suominen raised some points for further discussion with regards to how the private sector could help to improve the conditions for e-commerce.

  • Sharing information (e.g. big data could provide relevant information to customs control, so they become more comfortable with e-commerce).
  • Help governments on the regulatory reforms they need to make.
  • Private sector projects that help women, SMEs to engage in e-commerce

Mannan discussed projects that his company has developed to help women engage in e-commerce (e.g. assisting women placing products that they produce in the marketplace in a very simple manner). The company is also fostering women leadership by bringing them into the company and putting them in management positions.

Suominen asked the panellists how the private and public sectors can work together. Sohel gave examples of how the public and private sectors are working together in Bangladesh. Carter cited the example of a project between FedEx and the department of commerce to help small business expand their export profiles to other destinations. He also mentioned that providing data is another kind of collaboration. FedEx provides information to the Word Bank, for example. He also mentioned the Global Alliance for trade facilitation, a public private partnership.

In the questions and answers segment, the idea that the goals of the private sector and the public sector are aligned was questioned by some participants. The downside of giving up on taxation revenues, and the fact that free flow of data benefits large companies, mostly from developed countries, who profit from users’ data were some of the points raised in the discussion.