[Read more session reports from the UNCTAD E-Commerce Week 2018]
The session focused on how to overcome existing barriers related to international e-commerce platforms that developing countries, including the less developed countries, face. The discussion also covered various barriers to accessing global platforms that hamper the capacity of many developing country firms to export through these platforms, and possible ways in which these difficulties can be overcome.
Ms Hanne Melin (Director Global Public Policy, eBay) stated that ensuring that digital platforms can unlock economic opportunities for small states everywhere in the world is one of the core objectives of eBay. She explained that eBay currently offers its platform under 13 different national domain names (e.g. eBay.fr, eBay.co.uk, etc) which are open to businesses from other countries (except those under US embargo). Foreign businesses can thus register the platform and offer international shipping. This is a very important tool for businesses in emerging markets. According to eBay’s latest internal report, most small and medium enterprises in Latin America and the Caribbean region ship their products to 20-29 other countries in a year. She also mentioned that eBay does not work in isolation, but rather in collaboration with multiple enablers which provide Internet connectivity, payment services, and delivery solutions. She described how, in order to make platforms more inclusive, eBay has:
Developed the eBaymag app, which allows companies to list their products on multiple international sites, translating items from a local language and changing stock records once a sale is made
Entered into partnership with electronic data interchanges in order to provide buyers and sellers with more choices regarding payments in their respective countries
She concluded by maintaining that although technology is playing a greater role in e-commerce for developing countries, there is still a need for human involvement in assisting and motivating entrepreneurs.
Mr Nick Bramble (Public Policy Counsel for Trade and International Relations, Google) asserted that the Internet has an enormous potential to make trade more inclusive; however, this is not a self-fulfilling promise. In fact, everyone should have fast independent access to the Internet, access to information, and the ability to shape the Internet, for example by creating and participating in platforms. He explained that it had emerged from Google’s internal analytics that, in Ghana, the clicks on business advertisements in Google search results were mostly coming from outside the country, and the same had happened for companies in Pakistan. He also stressed the importance of Google Play, Google’s app store, which opens for trade to the global market. Moreover, referring to the study conducted by the Internet Society, he considered that the use of applications allows for more local content to be spread, thus lowering entry barriers.
Ms Victoria Saue (Head of Risk and Compliance, E-residency, Estonia) focused her presentation on Estonia’s e-residency programme. She first stated that Estonia is one of the most advanced countries that is digitalising the public sector. Since the early 2000s, Estonia has invested in the realisation of electronic IDs for its citizens, e-health, online voting, public transport, and education. Actually, 99% of all public services are online. She explained that e-residency means that foreign entrepreneurs can gain access, establish, and fully own an EU business, thus reducing administrative burdens and allowing for access to EU financial services. She concluded by considering the challenges to the implementation of the e-residency programme, namely access to the Internet, lack of business skills, and knowledge of English.
Mr Brian Wong (Vice President Global Initiatives, Alibaba) pointed out that since e-commerce represents a concrete opportunity to make the economy more inclusive, public-private partnerships are essential for its success. He explained that since its creation in 1999, Alibaba has seen an exponential growth in e-commerce transactions and thus has significantly helped small businesses. He said that financial inclusion is also one of the results of digital commerce: for example, through the platform Aliplay, businesses are also able to access other complementary services (such as insurance) which are necessary for their activity. He concluded by reflecting that privacy, data protection, and monopoly concerns should be weighted by governments with the perspective of creating the right environment for innovation.
By Marco Lotti
- United Nations Conference on Trade and Development