Intergovernmental Group of Experts on E-commerce and the Digital Economy (Third Session)

Session: 36

3 Apr 2019 - 15:00 to 18:00



[Read more session reports and live updates from the UNCTAD E-commerce Week]

The session was moderated by Ms Kadra Ahmed Hassan (Ambassador and Permanent Representative to UN, WTO and other organisations in Geneva). She said that there is a context of digital and data divides within and among countries. She also emphasised the implications of the data-driven economy for inclusive trade and development. In addition, she mentioned that the discussions have to focus on the cross-border transfer of data and measures to address concerns related to issues such as privacy and security, industrial development, and law enforcement.

Mr Joshua Meltzer (Senior Fellow, Global Economy and Development, Brookings Institution) started by explaining the role of data in digital trade. He talked about the data flows and international trade. In addition, he argued that data flows have increased since 2014 particularly in trade of goods.

Moreover, he added that digital trade is transformed by platforms, digital services, increased services value-add in manufacturing, and global value chains. He noted some reasons, such as privacy, law enforcement, cybersecurity, censorship, etc. He explained his work in India’s ICT-enabled services exports and emphasised the role of cross-border trade in India.  Meltzer mentioned the regulation for the digital economy and said that balance is essential. He added that for successful digital trade, we need to expand Internet access and reduce cost.

In addition, we have to know about the obligations of the data source country and the commitments to the free flow of information. Furthermore, Meltzer said that the protection of personal data is very important. He noted the convergence to global standards and presented agreements like the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in European Union (EU).  Finally, he added that we need to understand variable interoperability - the role of cooperation in sharing data - and privacy, and stressed the WTO e-Commerce Framework.

Mr Nigel Cory (Associate Director, Trade Policy, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation) explained the overview of closing the digital divide and supporting digital trade. He emphasised the role of data and data localisation and noted the growth of data flows in the global economy. In addition, he said that policymakers have to be proactive in seizing the opportunity of an open digital market. He added that we have to pay attention to data localisation and analyse harmful digital development trade.

Furthermore, he talked about the policies that will support digital trade and data innovation and help workers in data development. Cory said that there must be the deployment of information and communication technology (ICT) which will close the digital divide. He gave the example of Kenya with ICT rules on digital trade done in 2010. He also noted the way we can reduce the cost of digital trade by maximising the supply of reusable data.

Furthermore, he talked about enacting ‘open data’ laws to facilitate access to data the government collects. He mentioned the related objective, such as closing the data divide and policy responses in order to improve digital trade. Finally, he said that developing datascience and data literacy is essential in doing digital trade. He said that digital trade rules help firms develop economies of scale. He concluded by asking for the strong digital trade strategy for countries in the global economy.

Mr Parminder Jeet Singh (Executive Director, IT for Change) explained the importance of digital transactions in doing physical economic activities. He said that using data is very helpful to improve services and other aspects of the digital economy. He argued that those who own data are on top of the global value chains. He added that inclusiveness means the control of local data. Moreover, he said that the economic value of data is very important in order to take advantages of the digital economy. He strongly noted the economic governance of data legal framework.

Jeet Singh talked about using data in working places and noted the problems of developing countries on data protection. He mentioned artificial intelligence (AI) as a change-maker of international trade. In addition, he said that policymakers have to build an effective national legal framework of data. Finally, he said that there must be an analysis of data flows. The developing countries have to build digital infrastructure in order to deal with the new challenges of data flows.

Answering a question from the audience, Jeet Singh said that there is a public interest of data and its ownership. He mentioned the ‘Single Data Territory’ as a great solution for the small countries in order to deal with the data challenges and other problems in the digital economy. He concluded by saying that there is a problem of using only data without having the tools to produce it for many developing countries.


By Gilles D. Bana


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