[Read more session reports from the UNCTAD E-Commerce Week 2018]
International panellists from the NGO space convened again with country delegates to continue the second session of the Intergovernmental Group of Experts on E-commerce and the Digital Economy. The discussions revolved around issues such as fostering e-commerce platform usage, breaking down barriers to cross-border trade, eliminating operational constraints, and detailing best practices for e-commerce adoption in the developing world. Mr Torbjörn Frederiksson (Head of the Information and Communications Technology Analysis Division, UNCTAD) re-iterated these points before proposing the creation of a working group focused on helping developing nations measure domestic e-commerce indicators and incorporating global perspectives.
Ms Paula Szenkman (Sub-secretary of Development and Productive Planning, Argentinian Productivity Ministry) raised concerns about data collection for global e-commerce. She noted that her institution had created an e-commerce ‘toolkit’ focused on measuring the digital economy. The package provides guidance for recording basic indicators of e-commerce vibrancy, such as website visits and broadband proliferation, along with best practices for encouraging e-commerce usage. Szenkman stressed that the package prioritises implementation guidance above all else.
Ms Helani Galpaya (Chief Executive Officer (CEO), LIRNEasia) took the floor next, and opened by outlining issues standing in the way of e-commerce adoption in India. She first set the stakes for the importance of e-commerce by noting that in India, e-commerce platforms often provide funds critical to survival, as is the case for much of the developing world. Galpaya then mentioned that low penetration by mobile phones, broadband, bank account usage, credit card usage, and transport and trading platforms restrain the adoption of e-commerce. Trust issues are also rampant, she noted, as many customers use e-commerce platforms solely for product discovery, choosing to complete the rest of the transactions offline.
Frederiksson opened the floor for delegates’ reactions to the proposal for an e-commerce measurement working group. Delegates unanimously supported creating the body, and salient points came from the Brazilian and US delegates about including e-commerce in the national account calculus. Furthermore, the US delegate posed the question of how to define the digital economy, which the representative from Senegal echoed. He noted that very few Senegalese use homegrown e-commerce platforms to conduct trade, opting to use Facebook and Instagram instead, and he asked whether a working group would count these transactions as e-commerce.
The Ugandan representative stated that domestic data management will determine a nation’s e-commerce growth path, a point that the representative from the World Customs Organization (WCO) addressed. She stated that the WCO already collects useful data regarding trade volumes that a working group could easily repurpose for international benefit. Finally, the representative from the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations (FIATA) stressed the need to disaggregate the working group’s data collection along gender lines.
Szenkman, Galpaya, and Frederiksson expressed their gratitude for the consensus around the setting up of a working group. The secretariat then took the floor, stating that UNCTAD will formally propose the concept to the UNCTAD trade and development boards at their June meeting.
The secretariat then opened the floor for a discussion of the language of the working group charter, to which the delegate from the USA first responded. He noted that the current draft must be shorter and must avoid regulating UNCTAD. The representative from Senegal noted that it will be complicated to ask governments alone to bear the financial burden of supporting the group, suggesting that the document includes language about the group cost being distributed among more stakeholders. The US and Egyptian delegates also expressed concern with the suggestion that the document is to be divided into sections that correspond to each of the body’s meetings during the UNCTAD E-commerce week. Delegates agreed that the document’s structure should be clarified.
The session concluded by reaffirming the global commitment to e-commerce progress and the importance of the working group to that end.
By Frank Kosarek