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Beijing conference: Digital trade is trade of future, great hope for developing nations, says Pak envoy

May 14, 2018

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has told an international conference in Beijing that digital trade is trade of the future and future of global South.

“It can be great stepping stone for millions at the bottom of pyramid of e-commerce, a great enabler for Small and Media Enterprises (SMEs), young entrepreneurs and women in trade in developing economies. We accept that future is digital, but it has to be a common future and not divided like the past. It has to be inclusive organised and transparent. The gains from the digital revolution have not been shared widely. Digital technologies can be transformational by promoting inclusion, efficiency, and innovation, but if digital economy is not accessible, affordable and open, it will result in inequality, control and concentration,” Pakistan’s Ambassador to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Dr Tauqir Shah said.

He was speaking at the Ecommerce and Development Conference in Beijing. China is hosting a series of policy roundtables, focusing on MTS and e-commerce for development. Representatives from Pakistan, Brazil, Mexico, Kenya, Nigeria, Uruguay, Sri Lanka, Kazakhstan, Argentina, Benin, Chad and Moldova are attending the e-commerce policy dialogue.

Most of the participating countries belong to a like-minded group at WTO - “Friends of Ecommerce for Development (FEDs). Pakistan is the founder coordinator of this like-minded coalition.

The ambassador said that achievement of future agenda of inclusive prosperity is only possible if the South is proactive about its interests and intensifies its engagement with the Multilateral Trading System (MTS).

He advocated a proactive role for developing countries at the WTO. While calling for action by global development community, he said there are huge challenges facing developing and transition economies in reaping the gains from e-commerce. These challenges include poor infrastructure, inadequate logistics, low adoption rates of information and communications technology, outdated legal and regulatory frameworks, and lack of payment solutions and financing, and huge national deficit in digital skills needed for e-economy. All development community has to focus collectively on these issues. Pakistan views e-commerce as a tool that brings together the digital, social and development agendas and as an enabler of sustainable and inclusive growth, and most effective vehicle for achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030.

Dr Tauqir said many ills of globalisation can be cured through e-commerce provided it is developed in an inclusive manner, with an integral development dimension. “We are of the belief that ultimate aim of trade policy and trade rules must be poverty reduction, growth, welfare and development that works for all members of the global economy. Same holds true for digital trade. The development dimension of e-commerce is essential for inclusive rules-based MTS.

He said they have to keep the agenda of development central in digital discussions within the MTS. It is extremely important for the South to remain engaged with the e-commerce debate in the MTS, as they learnt from the Uruguay trade negotiations round that to be disengaged is to be marginalised in the long-run. “We want to be on the table when fundamental issues about e-commerce are being debated in MTS.”

The ambassador also highlighted the challenges faced by developing countries in e-commerce and said: “We are in an era where people no longer go online; they are 24/7 online. Destiny of our society is digital. Internet is a Global Good, and a Global Common. The challenge is how to mutually benefit from this Global Good that is Internet, and its role in trade.”

He cited the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) e-commerce Readiness Index Score to highlight issues faced by developing countries. “E-commerce Readiness index for the developed world is 87; Africa is 28; developing Asia is 54; and Pakistan is 36. This has seeds of deepening the digital divide and institutionalising it in trade too. Thus, it is critical that we focus on the development dimension of e-commerce. The UNCTAD index clearly shows that the capacity and ability to engage successfully in e-commerce varied significantly among countries. This index clearly shows that digitally we are a multispeed planet.”