UNCTAD’s report explores how COVID-19 triggered the digital and e-commerce turning point

The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and eTrade for all partners published a new report on COVID-19 and E-Commerce: A Global Review explored the powerful global and regional industry transformations demonstrated throughout 2020. The report finds that the COVID-19 crisis has led to a surge in e-commerce and accelerated digital transformation which, in turn, boosted e-commerce’s share of global retail trade from 14% in 2019 to about 17% in 2020 where the highest uptake was reported in emerging economies. While many governments sought short-term remedies to the pandemic, others pursued long-term approaches to overcome strategic requirements for recovery. Yet, governments of many developing countries have interfered to protect businesses and individual incomes. For example, in Latin America and the Caribbean, Costa Rica's government launched a platform for businesses without an online presence, and a smartphone app and texting service to promote trade among producers of agricultural, meat, and fish products. In Africa, Senegal kicked off information, education, and awareness campaign on the benefits of e-commerce across all segments of the population. In Asia, Indonesia developed a capacity-building programme to accelerate digitisation and digitalisation among micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs). ‘Businesses and consumers that were able to ‘go digital’ have helped mitigate the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. But they have also sped up a digital transition that will have lasting impacts on our societies and daily lives – for which not everyone is prepared. Developing countries should not only be consumers but also active players and thus producers of the digital economy,’ said UNCTAD Acting Secretary-General Isabelle Durant.