The UN Committee for Trade and Development held its annual Ecommerce Week from 1-5 April in Geneva. This coincided with the 22nd ratification of the African Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which means that the process can now go forward (22 countries was the threshold required for the Agreement to enter into force). South Africa has ratified. At the beginning of the conference one of the African Union (AU) Commissioners pointed out that less than 1% of development aid goes into ICT or the digital economy. The major donors, most of whom were present, were challenged to put much more into developing ICT and the digital economy.
At the Ministerial briefing on the 2nd day it was noted that digital poverty needs to be a development priority in order to avoid uneven patterns of digitalization which will create a new class of poverty – the digital poor. Ministers said that the benefits of going digital, such as better-paid jobs and higher productivity, are not automatic or evenly spread, and governments must do more for those being left behind. As someone said, in this context poverty does not simply mean the lack of money. It is also when there is a lack access to people that can support your goals and visions.
I was invited to speak on the UNIDO (UN Industrial Development Organisation) panel, ‘Industry 4.0 and ecommerce’, the Digital Trade Network panel, ‘Free flow of data and data protection: How do we square the circle’; the African Union panel, ‘Digitalization and the realization of the African Continental Free Trade Area for digital transformation in Africa’; and the Ecommerce Foundation’s panel, ‘Ecommerce Associations from start to finish’. I also was able to meet with the Secretary-Generals of UNCTAD and the World Trade Organisation. This is, dear reader, my excuse for being late with this Monthly Newsletter – apologies!
I will do a longer report on the UNCTAD Ecommerce Week for the April Newsletter.