Connecting SMEs: Are e-commerce platforms the answer?

28 Sep 2017 15:30h - 17:00h

Event report

[Read more session reports from WTO Public Forum 2017]

Mr Walter Hugo Werner, Head of the WTO Unit, Permanent Mission of Germany in Geneva, moderated the session. Werner believes that since e-commerce is a topic of interest to Germany, as well as part of the G20 agenda, Germany aims to assist small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) become part of the global chain in aspects such as infrastructure, skills and payment methods. There will be a broad discussion about the opportunities and challenges of e-commerce at the next G20 meeting in October.

Mr Harsha Liyanage, Co-founder and CEO at, highlighted how the Internet has changed the lifestyle of young children in Sri Lanka. Young people in Sri Lanka often use social media as an e-commerce platform where they sell and buy products. Despite the fact the e-commerce is widely used, items often fail to reach their destination owing to a the lack of a systematic logistic process in most of the purchasing transactions. To tackle this problem, was founded, to help connect consumers with SMEs and to inspire young consumers who could become the future e-commerce platforms innovators.

Mr Anders Aeroe, Director of Division of Enterprises and Institutions, International Trade Centre (ITC), introduced the study on ‘New Pathways to E-commerce’ which was based on a survey on 2200 SMEs in 111 countries to understand the obstacles they face in e-commerce and to find ways to support them. 80% of SMEs in the survey are micro enterprises that engage in e-commerce solution finding. According to the survey, e-commerce can boost up the performance of import and export. The main challenges that prevent SMEs from taking part in e-commerce are cross-border issues, knowledge and skills gaps, online visibility, and third-party e-payment service providers when it comes to international payments. However, they have found that mobile money is a promising tool to boost e-commerce, as it is becoming increasingly widespread.

Mr Cezary Sowinski, Senior Director Customs and Regulatory Affairs Europe, DHL Express, highlighted four enabling conditions for e-commerce to flourish: good infrastructure, connectivity for content to make it to global market places, payment solutions, and delivery solutions. Sowinski also talked about a project partnership with the ITC in Rwanda which will facilitate trade and allow local SMEs to gain access to e-commerce logistics and transportation more easily. Furthermore, the biggest challenge in trade is customs regulation, which can have a major effect on the business process, as the unwanted delay of delivery goods occurs, thus regulation on trade facilitation should be reviewed by policy makers.

Mr Gustavo Hector Méndez, Counsellor at the Permanent Mission of Argentina to the WTO, noted that the WTO is paying least attention to the challenges faced in the daily routine of traders and suggested that the WTO should put all the tools together to help the development of e-commerce. He argued that despite the different status of the countries, there is a common challenge among all countries and there should be no discrimination when making polices and regulations as e-commerce is widely spread.

by Aye Mya Nyein