E-commerce services and digital economy - UNCTAD

E-commerce services and digital economy - UNCTAD

Information dated: 2017

ICT Analysis Section

Division on Technology and Logistics (DTL) - UNCTAD

Palais des Nations, 8-14 avenue de la Paix,

1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

UNCTAD's work on ICT policies for development

Many countries and regions at varying levels of development are putting in place strategies to take advantage of information and communications technologies (ICTs). ICT trends and innovations, such as mobile applications and cloud computing, offer a range of opportunities for governments, enterprises and citizens alike, to facilitate their participation in global trade and enhance development opportunities. Electronic commerce is at the heart of this transformative process, raising the need for countries to develop a better understanding of its implications for trade and development.

Developing countries are turning to development partners to adapt and respond to rapidly evolving technologies. UNCTAD was early to recognize the strategic role of ICTs and has since been a pioneer in providing relevant analysis and policy options for developing countries including least developed countries. It has identified key priority areas for policy intervention, including inclusive ICT strategies, data analytics, and law reform. As a result, many developing countries have benefited from UNCTAD's work in this field.

Capacity building

Leveraging the digital economy for sustainable development requires relevant policy responses from governments, developed in collaboration with other stakeholders. To assist the Member States in this area, UNCTAD offers three main tools.

E-Commerce and Law Reform

Since 2004, UNCTAD has assisted over 60 countries (of which 20 LDCs) through this programme, which aims at building the capacity of policy and lawmakers at national and regional levels in understanding the legal issues underpinning e-commerce. Concrete actions include:

  • Assistance in establishing domestic and regional legal regimes to enhance trust in online transactions, ease domestic and international trade online, and offer legal protection for users and providers of e-commerce and e-government services;

  • Organization of national and regional capacity building workshops for policy and law makers;

  • Briefing of parliamentarians;

  • Mapping of e-commerce legislation in the areas of e-transactions, data protection, cybercrime and consumer protection online; and

  • Thematic studies: Mobile Money in the EAC, Data Protection and International Data Flows.

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Measuring the information economy

UNCTAD's work on measuring the information economy includes data collection, technical assistance, development of methodology, and research. UNCTAD collects statistical data from developing countries through an annual survey, focusing on ICT use in enterprises and on the ICT sector. The data is used for research and analysis, for example in the annual Information Economy Report, and is published in UNCTAD's statistics portal, UNCTADStat.

Technical assistance consists of building the capacity of countries to produce official statistics on the information economy and to use those statistics to guide ICT policies. UNCTAD offers a training course, a manual, and other technical documentation on information economy statistics. It is also working on measuring international trade in ICT services and ICT-enabled services, on developing gender-based ICT indicators, as well as on measuring the impact of ICT use.

The UNCTAD ICT Policy Review (ICTPR) Programme conducts national assessments, develops strategies and provides policy advice to countries requesting assistance in building and maintaining a dynamic and responsive ICT policy environment. In this context, it undertakes reviews, research, analysis, strategy development and technical cooperation in the areas or national ICT planning and electronic commerce strategies.

The rapid development of the digital economy is creating opportunities as well as challenges for least developing countries (LDCs) to engage in and benefit from e-commerce. The objective of UNCTAD e-T.Ready programme is therefore to increase the capacity of LDCs to participate effectively in e-commerce by assessing critical readiness gaps along key policy areas and addressing those through collaborative public and private partnerships.

eTrade for All: A new global initiative launched at UNCTAD14

E-commerce can become a powerful driver of economic growth, inclusive trade and job creation in the developing world. However, the e-commerce divide is wide. While numerous development partners are working from different angles to unlock the potential of e-commerce for development, current efforts are perceived as fragmented, non-transparent and of insufficient scale.

Accelerating the development gains from e-commerce requires a more concerted approach. "eTrade for All" was launched at UNCTAD XIV Ministerial Conference. eTrade for All is helping developing countries to navigate more easily the supply of assistance while providing donors a clear picture of programmes to potentially fund. The overall effect results in more transparency and greater aid efficiency. The initiative is an illustration of how to leverage ICTs for sustainable development, in particular with regard to SDGs 5, 9 and 17.

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Online Platform

The main tool of the initiative is the eTrade for All is an online Platform launched in April 2017.

Through its knowledge-sharing platform eTrade for All is helping developing countries and donors navigate the supply of and demand for support to e-commerce development, learn about trends and best practices, and to raise visibility for the various partners' initiatives and resources. The eTrade for All initiative focuses on 7 key policy areas of particular relevance to e-commerce development: (1) E-commerce readiness assessments and strategy formulation; (2) Information and communications technology infrastructure and services; (3) Trade logistics and trade facilitation; (4) Payment solutions for e-commerce; (5) Legal and regulatory frameworks; (6) E-commerce skills development; (7) Access to Financing.