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UNCTAD’s 2022 Ecommerce Week

UNCTAD held its annual Ecommerce Week from 25-29 April. This reinstates the much-loved annual event in Geneva after a hiatus of 2 years. The theme for this year was data flows. This resulted in many sessions covering data privacy and localisation of data issues. Opening the event, Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General said, “It is more important than ever to embark on a new path for digital and data governance”. There were over one hundred sessions or speeches, including presentations on the development of the AfCFTA, on women in trade, regulations, trade policy, education/training, and the WTO’s work on ecommerce.  EFA and EFSA hosted 3 sessions (see below).

Inevitably several speakers (majority from India and Europe) pressed for the adoption of strict data localisation regulations, including the requirement for businesses to open the data they collect to the government. The dangers of localisation of data were also stressed by other contributors – including the increased possibility of data breaches and concerns over effective cybersecurity, the costs to small countries if cloud computing was to be prevented, etc. The European Commission repeated its demand that all countries follow its General Data Protection Regulation while failing to acknowledge that this law is not suitable for non-European countries. However, it was good to hear some speakers point out that Africa needs to prepare its own privacy regulations (which are on the agenda of the AU to do in a new convention in the future).

The UNCTAD event saw UNCTAD’s eTrade for Women join forces with the Deutsche Post DHL Group, a leading player in international logistics, to help women overcome some of the barriers to global digital trade and celebrated a new strategic partnership between the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and UNCTAD’s “eTrade for all”. The initiative seeks to strengthen efforts towards more inclusive development outcomes from the digital economy. The ‘eTrade for all’ initiative serves as a global helpdesk for developing countries to bridge the knowledge gap on ecommerce. It provides access to information and resources, promotes inclusive dialogues on ecommerce and the digital economy, and catalyses partnerships. It will enable consistent, systematic, and strategic engagement of SMMEs across all sectors, which are affected by the increased digitalization of economies in developing and developed countries.

Meanwhile, at the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the co-convenors of the negotiations on ecommerce, Australia, Japan, and Singapore, urged members to intensify their efforts in 2022 to secure convergence on most issues in the negotiations, including the more difficult areas. Participating members heard reports on the small group discussions and exchanged views on proposals relating to “enabling electronic commerce”. There is frustration that too much effort is being given to some of the least important topics at the expense of the significant issues, and on the stubbornness of some countries (including the EU on its data protection demands). At the UNCTAD meeting, WTO came under fire for not including more African countries in these negotiations. Only 4 take part, however, this reflects Africa’s emphasis on the trade aspects of agriculture, fisheries, and minerals as well as the small delegations at most African embassies to the UN bodies in Geneva.

 

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