[Read more session reports from WTO Public Forum 2019]
The session was moderated by Ms Antoinette Hage (Social Media Coordinator & Senior Account Manager, Sovereign Strategy) who welcomed the panellists and talked about the regulation and framework of the digital economy. She mentioned the cost of information and said that we must create new solutions for a changing world. How can we ensure that the future is bright for young entrepreneurs who are active in mode of supply one (which corresponds to cross-border supply, from one country to another)?
Mr Arthur Appleton (Partner, Appleton Luff – International Lawyers) started by talking about digital regulations and emphasised that those rules must not only come from institutions in Geneva. He spoke about the ubiquitousness of the Internet, and how it is a game changer for doing business on a global level. He talked about how young people are heavy users and participants of the digital economy and that we need to determine new rules as international trade evolves.
In addition, Appleton asked what should be done on international, regional, and national levels. He mentioned that the WTO is working on a consensus and that it is difficult to regulate e-commerce issues on an international level. He mentioned the role of national regulation and how it can help facilitate young entrepreneurship. Appleton talked about how the world is also witnessing regulatory efforts on the regional level – for example, competition law in the European Union (EU). Both national and regional efforts are becoming important and are very useful in dealing with the digital economy on a global level.
Answering a question from the audience, Appleton talked about how customs duties are taxes that are still important for developing countries. He mentioned the role of youth in the Ukraine in crafting a regulatory regime for the digital economy. He emphasised the importance of subsidies for young entrepreneurs. He said that we must be aware that countries across the world have different levels of understanding of the importance of regulating the digital economy. Moreover, he said that there is fragmentation among WTO member states on how future negotiations regarding e-commerce are to proceed.
Finally, he mentioned issues related to competition law in developing countries. Therefore, he said that it is important to regulate on national and regional levels. He noted that WTO member states attempted to discuss competition law issues during the ministerial conference held in Singapore in 1996, but they failed.
Ms Pallavi Bajaj (Partner, TCube Consulting LLP) started by saying that data is the new oil. According to her, we need to rethink how we do business and how we use technology. This includes the much-needed inclusion of more young entrepreneurship. New regulations must be established with transparency and harmonisation in mind. In addition, she mentioned that big tech companies like Amazon and Google are selling us a number of services that we do not need. She said that we need to rethink the manner in which we are doing business on big platforms, and mentioned the important roles of data and transparency.
Bajaj pointed out the role of understanding consumers and their needs. According to her, the WTO must be the platform through which the world ensures sustainable and inclusive trade. Answering a question from the audience, she said that we must examine the role of data in much greater detail.
Mr Robert Burlison (Director for International Government Affairs, INTUIT) talked about the role of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in global business. According to him, some key issues facing SMEs are access to capital and the role of financial management. He mentioned the advantages of thinking and working globally when it comes to utilising new technologies – he gave the example of connecting banks across international borders.
Burlison emphasised that we should pursue regulations on the regional level, rather than the international level (i.e. the WTO). He also spoke the importance of sharing ideas and of different perspectives on a global level. He mentioned that we must focus more on digital identities and electronic signatures. Answering a question from the audience, he pointed out the challenges related to the regulation of the digital economy, especially when it comes to banks.
Ms Sabina Ciofu (Head of EU and Trade Policy, techUK) presented her company, and in particular, its role in e-commerce. She talked about the lack of digital skills among youth. She also mentioned the state of the digital economy in developing countries and the design of trade policies in these countries.
Ciofu said that consensus on the international level is difficult, but that we must continue the debate on issues related to e-commerce. She spoke about elements such as the potential of e-payment and cross-border trade, among others. She also pointed out challenges related to privacy and data localisation. Answering a question from the audience, she said that we must make trade policy more inclusive for women and youth.