This session launched the eTrade for all online platform, which serves as an information hub for developing countries to navigate the technical and financial services available to drive development through e-commerce, and which is a central component of UNCTAD’s eTrade for all initiative.
Dr Mukhisa Kituyi, Secretary-General of UNCTAD, opened the session, emphasising that the opportunities that e-commerce brings will be wasted if challenges fail to be addressed. He stressed the need to explore ways to reduce the divide, spread benefits, and empower the vulnerable. The eTrade for all initiative is a ‘critical first step’ on a long journey. Ms Shamika Sirimanne, Director of the Technology and Logistics Division of UNCTAD, introduced the eTrade for all online platform, as a one-stop shop for the identification of resources to foster inclusive e-commerce in seven key areas.
After the presentation of the platform, several high-level speakers reflected on the tool. H.E. Mr Khurram Dastgir Khan, Minister of Commerce of Pakistan, expressed his hope for the democratisation of e-commerce, and he appreciated the platform’s focus on inclusivity, which is ‘the only sustainable path for the future prosperity of e-commerce: e-commerce must embrace everyone’. H.E. Mr Pan Sorasak, Minister of Commerce of Cambodia, provided an example of how Cambodia has benefited from the eTrade for all initiative, especially its e-trade readiness assessment, which identified access to relevant information and awareness of laws and regulation as a key barrier to e-commerce. The online platform can respond to this need.
The interventions by the ministers were followed by the remarks of four ambassadors. H.E. Ms Terhi Hakala, Ambassador of the Permanent Mission of Finland, reflected on the disruptive nature of ICTs in international trade, and the need for development assistance and capacity building to help developing countries move to e-trade. As current efforts are fragmented, the online platform is a useful tool to pool scattered resources and to coordinate efforts. H.E. Mr Julian Braithwaite, Ambassador of the Permanent Mission of the UK, added that it is essential to deepen the understanding of the opportunities, challenges, and risks of e-commerce in order to drive forward a multilateral, development-focused e-trade agenda. The online platform serves this objective and fosters policy coherence and operational synergy. H.E. Mr Kyong-Lim Choï, Ambassador of the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Korea, stressed that e-commerce cannot grow without consumer trust and confidence, which requires new regulatory frameworks for data protection and security. H.E. Mr Daniel Blockert, Ambassador of the Permanent Mission of Sweden to the WTO, praised the platform’s utility in capacity building and assistance to developing countries with an eye on the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.
A number of the eTrade for all initiative partners went on to talk about their experience in developing the platform. Mr Jean-Baptiste Villaca, Chef de service de la Réglementation du Commerce Electronique, Ivory Coast, shared his expectations of the platform as a collaborative learning space. Mr Bishar Abdirahman Hussein, Director General of the Universal Postal Union, presented his organisation’s potential to ‘provide a truly inclusive service for every citizen in the world’. Dr Ratnakar Adhikari, Executive Director of the Enhanced Integrated Framework, stressed the portal’s utility for micro, small, and medium actors, as well as developing countries, to stay up to data about the most recent e-commerce information. Ms Amanda Long, Director General of Consumers International, praised the level of multistakeholder engagement on the platform, which is ‘exactly what is needed to move forward’. Ms Dorothy Tembo, Deputy Executive Director of the International Trade Centre, regarded the launch of the platform as a sign of the new priority for multistakeholder partnership on the cross-cutting dimensions of e-commerce, and its utility in resolving barriers, whether technological, logistical, or regulatory.
After these interventions, H.E. Ms Susana Malcorra, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Argentina, addressed the room to speak about the relevance of e-commerce for the upcoming WTO Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires in December. She considered e-commerce to be an ‘essential part’ of the future of the WTO, and identified its potential to bridge the gap between the haves and have-nots, improve gender equality, and to ‘leapfrog into the twenty-first century’. She urged WTO Member States to renew their commitment and mandate the WTO to work on e-commerce.
Malcorra’s address was followed by another set of interventions by the project’s partners. According to Mr Yonov Frederick Agah, Deputy Director of the WTO, the information provided by the platform helps to bring the opportunities of e-commerce within everyone’s reach. Mr Kaspar Korjus, E-Residence Director, Estonia, highlighted the need for the unity of information and integration to the platform, as information is currently ‘everywhere’. Ms Ana B Hinojosa, Director of Compliance and Facilitation at the World Customs Organization, focused on the impact of e-commerce on cross-border transactions of goods. Ms Maria-Rosaria Ceccarelli, Chief Trade Facilitation Section of UNECE, spoke about the need to increase opportunities for developing countries to be plugged into the regional and global supply chain, and about UNECE’s work on simplifying processes, procedures, and information flow.
Ms Susan F Stone, Director of Trade, Investment and Innovation at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), explained how the platform benefits the work of her organisation, and claimed that it does not only put forward e-commerce, but ‘development across the board’. Mr Antonio Estevadeordal, Manager of the Integration and Trade Section of the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), spoke about e-commerce challenges in Latin America and the Inter-American Development Bank's (IDB) ConnectAmericas initiative. Ms Kati Suominen, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Nextrade Group, spoke on behalf of the Business for eTrade Development programme, which is part of the eTrade for all initiative. She highlighted the role of the private sector, which is often closest to the opportunity and challenges of e-commerce and can help create solutions and optimise policies. Finally, Mr Waleed S Abalkhail, Chairman of TradeKey, emphasised the importance of the business-to-business side of e-commerce.