Conditions for appropriate ecommerce in developing countries

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Marilia Maciel

Digital development requires a wide range of policies, from putting in place ICT infrastructure and providing affordable access, to the development of the processing and analytics capabilities that will enable actors to transform data into intelligence. Creating mechanisms for equitable data governance regimes is also crucial for development. This was one of the conclusions of the UNCTAD Digital Economy Report 2021, a publication that sparked discussion among the speakers who took part in the session.

An overview of the main points of the report was presented by Mr Torbjörn Fredriksson (Chief at ICT Policy Section, UNCTAD). He emphasized that data can help societies overcome their most pressing development challenges, if managed well. Nevertheless, the wrong approach to data governance could be detrimental not only to development and the economy, but also to human rights and to the technical functioning of the Internet itself. The economic benefits from data have been harnessed by a few large platforms, which are further strengthening their economic positions by extending their businesses through the entire data value chain.

According to Fredriksson, data is very important for trade, but not all data transfers refer to the trade of goods and services. Because of that, a holistic, multidisciplinary, and multistakeholder data governance approach is needed, anchored in the United Nations. This new mechanism would have the mandate to work on several issues, such as the definition of data taxonomies and measurement indicators, the discussion of data as a public good, and defining rights and principles for the governance of data. A common solution could counter the current fragmentation emerging from data governance initiatives.

From a national perspective, the need to safeguard policy space, necessary for governments to put in place digital industrialisation strategies, was emphasized by Ms Vahini Naidu (Coordinator of the Trade for Development Program, South Centre). New technological developments, such as edge computing and the proliferation of data centres around the globe, put into question many of the arguments against data localization. According to Naidu, data flows are not all trade flows, and they should not be part of trade negotiations, such as the WTO’s Joint Statement Initiative (JSI) on e-commerce or regional agreements, example being the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). The focus of international cooperation should be on developing models of digital industrialisation, including through South-South cooperation, according to Mr Parminder Jeet Singh (Executive director, IT for Change, India).

The Report by the Committee of Experts on Non-personal Data Governance framework, published by the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology of India, proposes a way forward, touching upon the issue of economic control of data. Singh explained that the report ascribes the ownership of aggregate data to the community, and proposes the creation of ‘data trusts’, with the power to ask data collectors to make data available to the community for the public good and for economic purposes. This data could be used by national start-ups, for example.  

Regional coherence at the political level is also very important, according to Mr Africa Kiiza (Program Coordinator Trade Policies and Negotiations, Southern and Eastern Africa Trade Information and Negotiations Institute, Uganda). The Digital Transformation Strategy for Africa provides guidelines for integrating Africa through digital technologies. African countries should act together to tackle important issues, such as taxation and technology transfer. The continent should resist the current pressure being put by powerful players aiming to break their common position, and should speak as one.