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The moderator Ms Shamika Sirimanne (Director, Division on Technology and Logistics, UNCTAD) introduces that the world is increasingly affected by the digital economy. A transformation is upon us, and the sustainable development goals (SDGs) will be affected as developing countries find themselves falling more behind. It is crucial for all to work together to decrease the growing digital gap.
Ms Daniela Zehentner-Capell (Head of Division, Trade Policy, Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development) held that there are many opportunities with digital transformation, but also still a lot to be done. She informs that 1% of spending on ICT is just not enough. The gap in developing countries will continue to widen if we do not work together. She emphasised the importance of working with the private sector to invest in developing countries by creating win-win situations. Along with UNCTAD, they work to fund the eTrade Readiness Assessment toward 16 developing countries.
Ms Isabelle Durant (Deputy Secretary-General, UNCTAD) highlighted digital problems and how developing countries need different things from funding, regulations, and electronic payment systems. They need help to find and obtain financing through donors so that all countries can contribute in a real fashion, knowing that they are doing so.
Mr James G. Bennett-Rautenbach (Consultant, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GIZ) summarised a recent study that aims to understand the impact of donors. There was little data available from the recipient side of the effect of donors’ actions, and rarely was there any impact assessment of the digital economy assistance such as with eHealth or online education. He concluded by saying more research and action was needed. The difficulty is the argument that developing countries first need basic help with things such as health, food, and shelter before jumping to digital measures.
Ms Solo Andry Lantosoa Rakotomalala (Minister of Industry, Trade and Crafts, Madagascar) spoke of being a part of the eTrade Readiness Assessment. Madagascar still sees the challenges of having a significant digital divide. For example, 6% of people have a computer and 12% of adults hold a bank account. There is still progress to be made in trusting eTrade. Madagascar has policies leading to 2023, where the digital economy will complement development plans.
Many panellists expressed their support in assisting developing countries. Mr Walter Stevens (Ambassador and Head, EU delegation to the UN and other international organisations in Geneva) spoke about the EU’s support of digitalisation as a driver of inclusive growth. He said it is important to have a partnership mindset with financial institutions, such as with bringing private investment in Africa to create more jobs, to share experience in the digital age, and to confront societal challenges.
Ms Kaitlyn Swain (Senior Policy Officer, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia) also expressed Australia’s ongoing efforts in assisting developing countries such as with an undersea telecommunications system to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. Further, Australia is in the process of launching a fund to aid trade grants and local solutions that focus on small business to participate internationally in global trade. They assist women entrepreneurs and the impoverished with these projects.
Ms Rosie Seville (Policy Adviser, Trade for Development, Department for International Development (DFID), United Kingdom) expressed her organisation’s support to engage in more collaborative approaches with developing countries to achieve SDGs. DFID has two strands, one towards the development of the digital world with solutions to support trade by championing access to technology to everyone, especially to those with the risk of falling behind. Second, the UK government strategy uses digitalisation to improve every level, such as with their 2013 project that promotes transparency by tracking and displaying what DFID’s money is doing.
Mr Olof Drakenberg (Programme Manager, Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency SIDA) said developing countries still struggle due to the high costs of technology. Co-ordination of donors is needed since the private sector is providing such a large role, and it is important to manage opportunities as well as risks for sustainable growth.
Mr Aad Elias (Vice President - Head of MEA Government Business Mastercard) emphasised the economic gap that leads to polarisation, both economically and politically. This leads to problems such as the shadow economy, unemployment, and gender equality. There is an opportunity to change this with a strong implementation of a strategy. Digital inclusion is necessary, so no countries are left behind.
Mr Ratnakar Adhikari (Executive Director, EIF at the WTO) spoke about the challenges in infrastructure, skill, and quality in developing countries that he has been exposed to due to the eTrade assessments. It is crucial to engage the private sector to mobilise their support since there is untapped potential by donors.
Ms Mayumi Endoh (Deputy Director, OECD) spoke about OECD’s accomplishments in the realm of digital policy since it is high on the organisation’s agenda. It is important for the economic growth to transform economies and societies, to accelerate the performance of the SDGs.
By Natalie Meyer