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

Session: 40

4 Apr 2019 - 10:00 to 13:00



[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 explained the key points of the last session and emphasised the implications of a data-driven economy for inclusive trade. She asked the panellists to talk about opportunities and problems related to data flows.

Mr Christopher Foster (Presidential Research Fellow, Global Development Institute) explained the challenges and opportunities in data flows. He noted that we need to think about value chains. The key driver is the identification and tool of data policy. According to him, it is important to focus on economic, firm driven, and data divides. In addition, he said that we need to analyse policy approaches: market, incentives, structural, and state-oriented. He also highlighted that we need to think about the context of data flows in different regions. He added that data is rapidly evolving.

Answering a question from the audience, Foster said that privacy is very important for the global economy. He commented on the problematic issue of data localisation in specific countries. He underlined that we need to build an effective framework of data and learning digital skills. Data is a challenge for countries without digital tools and infrastructure. According to him, policy-makers must think about the digital environment and e-commerce strategy.

Ms Susan Ariel Aaronson (Senior Fellow, Global Economy Program, Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI)) started by saying that data is different from other traded goods and services. She noted that data governance must be clear and effective. In addition, she argued that developing countries are the future of a data-driven economy. However, they are not consistently open to cross-border data flows.

Aaronson said that data has different definitions in several free trade agreements: the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) 2.0, and EU/ JAPAN Agreement. She highlighted that we also need a patchwork of rules governing the data flows.

In addition, she stressed the challenges for developing countries in capturing value from data.  Many developing countries don’t see data as a resource of growth. She outlined the metrics of ability to create a data-driven economy for Canada, US, and EU. Furthermore, she said that there must be the patchwork of domestic data plans. According to her, we need to think about data localisation, sharing source code, etc. She concluded by saying ‘if data is different, we must think differently’. She added that there is no consensus on how to regulate data at the global level. She said that we have to differentiate public and personal data. She mentioned Canada as a good example for dealing with this problem on legal and national levels.

Answering a question from the audience, she said that each country must build a data strategy and policy. She explained that the value and role of data in e-commerce are different among countries. However, she noted data as an opportunity in international trade.

Mr Thomas Ramge (Technology Correspondent of the German business magazine brand eins and a Contributing Editor to The Economist) explained the key points of his book titled ‘Reinventing Capitalism in the Age of Big Data’. He said that data is replacing money as the driver of market behaviour. He further noted the challenges of data sharing and its contribution to international trade.  

Ramge highlighted the fact of collecting data and a lack of new rules of competition. According to him, it is not clear who owns data. He added that we need to rethink competition law and our progressive data-sharing mandate. In Germany, big companies have to share their data with small companies in order to support access for everyone in business. He explained that they ensure that small companies can take advantage of the digital economy. Furthermore, he talked about ‘data capitalism’ and ‘data colonialism’. Finally, he concluded with the thought that we have to reinvent regulation and make sure that competition is possible for all.


By Gilles D. Bana


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