UNCTAD eWeek 2023 (Day-3)

CUTS Daily Bulletin #3, December 6-2023    

Employing AI for Consumer Grievance Redressal Mechanisms in E-commerce

The session delves into how Artificial Intelligence (AI) has emerged as a powerful tool with the potential to revolutionise consumer governance. It offers several benefits, including improved efficiency, scalability, response times, and justice delivery. By leveraging AI, consumer governance mechanisms can be enhanced, making them more effective in resolving disputes and ensuring fair outcomes for consumers. Furthermore, AI can also facilitate the adoption of proper online dispute resolution (ODR) systems, enabling consumers to access mechanisms for resolving conflicts promptly and effectively.

However, a panellist highlighted the risks associated with the use of AI in consumer governance. Concerns have been raised regarding data privacy, as AI systems rely heavily on consumer data, which may be susceptible to breaches or unauthorised access. Additionally, biases in AI decision-making processes, stemming from biased training data or algorithmic flaws, can have detrimental consequences. Over-reliance on technology may also result in a lack of human intervention or oversight, potentially undermining the overall fairness and ethicality of consumer governance. Furthermore, the possibility of cyber security threats presents a significant risk, as malicious actors could exploit vulnerabilities within AI systems, potentially crippling the entire consumer governance infrastructure.

One of the panellists mentioned that earlier court-based resolution took years to resolve the dispute with the online dispute resolution now the consumers have benefited immensely with more standardised solutions to their problems. Also, the use of AI in meetings was one of the points raised by the panellist as it will lead to better outcomes on the spot. Analysing consumer complaints on the spot without delay is one of the benefits of AI. However, the panel emphasised the importance of transitioning from AI to human involvement, underscoring that no technological advancement can fully substitute the efficiency and effectiveness of human workers.

Recognising the diverse nature of disputes in various regions, the need for heightened awareness and knowledge among end consumers was stressed. The panel specifically addressed the challenge of implementing AI in a manner that effectively resolves grievances unique to different societies. To tackle this issue, the suggestion of providing technological training emerged as a key solution.

On the panel were: Rashika Narain, Weaver at OpenNyAi; Ujjwal Kumar, Associate Director, Consumer Unity & Trust Society International (CUTS); Teresa Moreira, Head of Competition and Consumer Policies at UNCTAD; Marilia Maciel, Head, Digital Commerce and Internet Policy at Diplo Foundation; Kritika Sethi, Co-founder at WeVaad.
(Reporting by Srajan Tambi )

Leveraging Technologies for Paperless Trade in Least Developed Countries: Insights from Asia-Pacific (UNCITRAL)

This session delves into the dynamic landscape of digital trade and cross-border paperless trade across developing nations in Asia and the Pacific. Unpacking the challenges and potential advantages inherent in the transition to digital customs operations, the discussion illuminates the persistent reliance on traditional paper documentation and the existing void in legal frameworks for seamless electronic trade data exchange. Despite these hurdles, strategic recommendations, such as the establishment of national single windows and the exploration of emerging technologies, are explored as pathways to foster efficient and secure cross-border trade.

At the heart of the discourse is a pivotal recommendation emphasising the creation and fortification of national single windows. These digital platforms are positioned as catalysts for the frictionless exchange of trade-related information, steering countries toward streamlined and automated trade processes. The objective is clear – to reduce dependence on cumbersome paper-based documentation and usher in an era of expedited, secure cross-border trade. The session advocates for pilot projects to trial emerging technologies like blockchain, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, underlining the potential for these innovations to enhance the efficacy and transparency of e-trade.

While a collective willingness to embrace e-trade resonates among the participating nations, the discussions unveil significant gaps in technology infrastructure, digital literacy, and human resources. Capacity-building emerges as a critical imperative, seeking to bridge these chasms and provide essential support for the effective implementation of paperless trade systems. Encouragingly, the establishment of the Framework Agreement on Facilitation of Cross-Border Paperless Trade in Asia and the Pacific signals a collaborative stride among regional nations, showcasing a shared commitment to overcoming challenges and promoting digital solutions in trade operations.

Insights from diverse regional perspectives further enrich the dialogue. Tuvalu, a small island nation reliant on imports, grapples with challenges like slow legal development and limited ICT infrastructure in its digital trade journey. Bhutan, as a landlocked nation, envisions digital trade as a solution to transportation and trade dependency challenges. Bangladesh, on the other hand, stands out with a robust commitment to digital technology and trade, reflected in its economic growth and sustainable digitalisation efforts. Challenges notwithstanding, these countries underscore their proactive initiatives, such as legal reforms and infrastructure development, in embracing digital trade.

In summation, the session underscores the paramount importance of adopting legislation supportive of electronic transactions and signatures for effective trade facilitation. Many nations in the Asia-Pacific region have already laid the groundwork with legislation rooted in ancestral monologues and treaties, proving resilient to future shifts. The adaptable nature of existing laws is highlighted, showcasing their capacity to accommodate novel technologies like automation and blockchain – secure, transparent platforms for transactions.

The final message resonating from the session is a call to active participation in United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) meetings. This engagement is positioned not just as a necessity for understanding the global trade landscape but as a proactive avenue for countries to shape policies and address their unique challenges. Embracing digital trade and cross-border paperless trade emerges as a transformative force with positive implications for industry, innovation, and infrastructure – contributing significantly to the resilience of economies. Success, however, hinges on meticulous planning, robust infrastructure development, capacity building, and addressing key issues such as digital literacy, cyber security, and legal frameworks. The session highlights that technical assistance and unwavering support for adopting digital technologies are pivotal elements in navigating the intricate transition to paperless trade.

On the panel were: Athita Komindr, Head,  UNCITRAL Regional Centre for Asia and the Pacific; Hang Tran, Senior Coordinator,  Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF); Kinley Yangzom, Chief Trade Officer, Export Promotion Division, Department of Trade,  Ministry of Economic Affairs, Bhutan; Mursheda Zaman, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Commerce, Bangladesh; Ryan Temate, Trade Officer, Department of Trade, Ministry of Fisheries & Trade,  Tuvalu; Soo Hyun Kim, Economic Affairs Officer,  United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP).

(Reporting by Sovini Mondal)

How to Make Digital Transformation Inclusive, Responsible and Sustainable.

The session, jointly organised by the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), UK and the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT), centred on focussing on inclusive, responsible and sustainable digital transformation in partner countries, with a focus on how digital foundations enable future economic growth and development. The session placed attention on good practice and lesson learning for the future, based on the experience from Kenya and Nigeria from the UK Digital Access Programme, and specifically a UK-ITU partnership project – with a focus on innovative approaches to regulatory frameworks for inclusive connectivity, and digital skills development.

The session began with a panellist from the FCDO presenting about digital transformation,  inclusion, responsibility and sustainability and how these are the four interconnected objectives of the upcoming Digital  Development Strategy 2024-2030. Further UK Digital Access Programme (DAP) in Brazil, Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa was discussed. Further, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and FCDO are working towards broader digital inclusion by focussing on four technical areas namely regulatory analysis framework and tool development, promoting sustainable models, encouraging a more conducive environment for investment and advancing digital skills.

The session delved into Brazil’s case, where the ITU collaborated with the regulator and government to enhance connectivity. Recommendations encompassed the need for coordinating initiatives, prevention of overlaps and enhancements to information monitoring. Further testing of business models for last-mile connectivity in underserved communities in Nigeria was discussed. The National Broadband Plan (NBP) for 2020-2025, targeting a 90 per cent coverage of the population with download speeds of 25 Mbps (urban) and 10 Mbps (rural) was highlighted. The panel proposed a way forward, suggesting a presentation to the industry and digital inclusion community with support from trade associations. The panellists put forth several suggestions for consideration while emphasising strong policy support as crucial for sector growth.

On the panel were: Mariya Hussain, Senior Policy Advisor at the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; Harun Hassan, Executive Director/CEO in Kenya; Samantha O’Riordan, Programme Officer at ITU; Alessandra Lustrati, Head of Digital Development Cluster at FCDO, UK; Osondu Nwokoro, Initiative for Digital Inclusion (IDI) on ‘Testing Business Models for Last Mile Connectivity in Underserved Communities in Nigeria.’

(Reporting by Arima Pankaj)

Digital Frontiers in Trade Logistics: Connectivity for Tomorrow’s Economy

Trade-related technology developments have spiked in the last years, in great part due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The technology involved in cross-border trade has undergone significant development in terms of digitalisation, harmonisation, automatisation, acceptance and use of new digital solutions to accelerate trade and increase trade connectivity. These changes respond to the need to reduce human interactions while at the same time keeping cross-border trade flowing. These developments have had a great impact on the way many companies conduct business, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The developments of solutions to keep trade flowing smoothly have provoked, at first, an initial stage of disruption in logistics operations, given the necessary adjustments. However, acceptance and understanding of new digital trade and connectivity solutions by governments, civil society and the private sector, are helping make these solutions the new normal.

Despite these advances, a gap remains in terms of ensuring access and acquiring state-of-the-art technologies to digitalise cross-border trade procedures and interconnect institutions in many developing countries. There are also challenges in ensuring the availability of professionals with the technical knowledge and capacities to operate these technologies, develop information systems, and data analysis, and ensure environmental sustainability in developing countries, especially least-developed countries (LDCs). This session aimed at assisting countries to close the mentioned gaps, improve overall performance, implement new technologies and reach better Smart Trade and Connectivity.

Emerging technologies, such as blockchain, automated customs systems, digital platforms and intelligence have transformed supply chains and ushered in a new era of efficiency, transparency and interconnectedness. UNCTAD has developed a series of initiatives and programmes to assist countries in reducing the digital frontiers in trade logistics. For instance, UNCTAD’s largest technical assistance programme ASYCUDA offers digital solutions to automate customs.

Saudi Arabia has invested a substantial US$25bn in digital infrastructure over six years, demonstrating its commitment to developing its digital economy. This investment has focused on building large-scale data centres and cloud infrastructure to support the private sector. The country’s development plan is to transform sectors including digital and e-commerce, create over 300,000 jobs, and transform the economy away from oil and gas by 2030. Efforts in logistics and customs clearances have facilitated e-commerce growth in the country, while international collaboration and private sector involvement are seen as crucial for progress. Thus, Saudi Arabia’s ambition to diversify its economy towards IT, digital economy, and artificial intelligence is backed by strong leadership and training programmes.

In the case of Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA) has developed several functional modules in collaboration with UNCTAD. These modules have been instrumental in integrating various platforms to ensure seamless service to clients. One notable example is the integration of the Scudo World platform with the domestic taxes platform, electronic cargo tracking system, central bank, local banking system, and vehicle registration units. Efforts are also being made to move away from paper-based clearance methodologies

In the case of the postal sector, the postal industry has transitioned from being solely a communication support network to becoming a trade facilitation-enabling network. This shift has brought numerous benefits to communities and micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs). With over 660,000 post offices worldwide, the postal network plays a vital role in supporting these entities. The Universal Postal Union (UPU) has implemented initiatives to enhance the performance and capability of the postal network, including seamless information exchange between operators and the introduction of a project for electronic advance data. This initiative highlights UPU’s critical role in promoting efficient and effective digital trade that is aligned with SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals.

Along with, investment in postal office infrastructure, the adoption of available technology solutions, the creation of a conducive environment and skills development for postal workers is crucial for enabling the interconnection of MSMEs and other stakeholders.

The World Chamber has developed a comprehensive strategy with a primary focus on narrowing the digital gap and promoting knowledge and learning in the field of e-commerce. By narrowing the digital gap, the World Chamber is striving to create a level playing field where businesses of all sizes and from all regions can compete and thrive. To achieve this goal, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) has taken up the task of standardising data in the supply chain through its Digital Standards Initiative. This initiative aims to establish a set of standardised data protocols that can be accessible to all players in the supply chain. By ensuring that data is standardised and available for the right purposes, the ICC aims to streamline international trade and eliminate potential barriers caused by different data formats and systems.

To enhance the digital skills of MSMEs in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region, the ICC, International Trade Centre (ITC), and Google have joined forces to provide a learning journey for approximately 1,000 MSMEs. This partnership recognises the increasing importance of digital skills in accessing and expanding into the global market.

DHL, the world’s largest logistics company, has introduced GoTrade to facilitate trade, particularly in developing and least developed economies. GoTrade has two primary focuses: trade advocacy and knowledge management. DHL offers extensive training programmes for MSMEs to equip them with the necessary knowledge and skills to capitalise on global market opportunities. Additionally, it runs a fellowship programme in collaboration with business schools, where MBA students assist MSMEs in running their businesses. These efforts have the potential to promote inclusive economic growth, enhance global trade and foster sustainable development. 

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the Committee on Trade Facilitation are working together to integrate digitalisation into the trade facilitation process. The Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) has made significant contributions in promoting digital trade. The Committee on Trade Facilitation established a platform for sharing experiences and facilitating knowledge transfer and best practices.  Efforts are being made to streamline trade processes through digitalisation. Members are developing single windows and implementing certifications, improving efficiency and reducing bureaucracy. Additionally, pre-arrival processing and expedited shipments are being prioritised, further enhancing trade processes. The National Trade Facilitation Committees (NTFCs) play a crucial role in monitoring and implementing the TFA.

It is to be noted that trust plays a vital role in trade facilitation, and adhering to harmonisation and good practices fosters trust among trading partners.

On the panel were: Pedro Manuel Moreno, Deputy Secretary-General, UNCTAD; Steven Pope, Vice President, Group Head Trade Facilitation,  Go Trade, DHL Group; Adrian P. Swarres, Head Compliance and Automation,  Zimbabwe; Shamika N. Sirimanne, Director, Division on Technology and Logistics (DTL), UNCTAD; Carlos Guevara, Counselor and Chair of the WTO Committee on Trade Facilitation,  Mission of Ecuador to the WTO; P Donohoe, Digital Policies and Trade Coordinator, Universal Postal Union (UPU); Dr E Al Mutairi, Vice Minister of Commerce of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA).
(Reporting by Deepmala Ghosh)

Competition Law and Regulations for Digital Markets

What are the Best Policy Options for Developing Countries?

The unique characteristics of digital markets, such as network effects, economies of scale and scope and data-driven business models, have posed several challenges for competition law enforcement. The rise of a handful of firms in the digital economy emerging as digital gatekeepers that control entire ecosystems and the emergence of concentrated platform markets have further highlighted the limits of competition law enforcement and the potential need for additional regulatory intervention. The above reality has sparked a rise in competition law enforcement activity against Big Tech companies around the globe. Governments around the world are seeking effective ways to regulate digital platforms while preserving the benefits they offer and excising the threat of concentration of market power. Some jurisdictions have adjusted already existing competition laws or adopted specific new laws or regulations for the digital economy. Others have also developed digital tools and issued guidance.

This session explored competition law enforcement and various regulatory initiatives currently taking place across the globe from a normative and comparative perspective. Against this background, the right ‘competition-regulatory mix’ to tackle market failures in the digital economy was discussed. What approach developed and developing countries adopt to harness the power of digital platforms, whether there were any lessons learned from the most advanced jurisdictions, and what the best policy options available for developing countries were considered?

The session chair reflected upon UNCTAD’s dedication to fair global trade practices, focussing on monitoring digital market competition and promoting inclusive economic growth and sustainable development. The insufficiency of competition laws alone in addressing anti-competitive conduct within the digital economy was acknowledged. The panellists stressed the importance of timely intervention to prevent entrenched market positions. Ex-ante regulation was highlighted as a necessary complement to tackle competition and consumer harms posed by digital platforms. The mention of active advocacy for ex-ante regulation was referred to in the European Union, Brazil, and Australia, with South Africa conducting in-depth studies to address competition issues.

The event discussed concerns related to weak enforcement cultures in developing countries adopting ex-ante regulation, emphasising the necessity to strengthen competition enforcement capacity. Building a robust foundation for enforcing the rule of law was highlighted as imperative. The argument for prioritising regulatory coherence over absolute consistency aimed to mitigate complexity and confusion across jurisdictions, expect greater compliance and promote understanding of new obligations. The significance of regional cooperation, strategic regulatory experimentation, and initiating competition enforcement investigations, particularly using regulations like self-preferencing, was recommended for a level playing field and fair competition.

Coordinated enforcement across jurisdictions, as demonstrated by the EU’s Digital Markets Act (DMA), was considered crucial, and aligning internationally on standards such as data portability and interoperability was emphasised for consistency and seamless operations. Competition policy and advocacy were deemed crucial in developing countries to articulate the benefits of competition, drive economic growth, and reduce inequalities. The diversity of the Asia-Pacific region in digital transformation, with varying stages of maturity, was discussed. Countries like Australia, Singapore, and Korea, which are leaders in internet access, presented immense growth potential. Korea’s self-regulation and Japan’s co-regulation models showcased regional diversity. The lack of a global standard underscored the necessity for tailored solutions. Problem-solving in the region involved accurate issue identification, evaluations to assess existing laws, and a systematic approach.

South Africa’s approach through market inquiry powers focused on improving competition, preferring flexibility over strict regulation. The DMA was considered less flexible, emphasising the importance of considering jurisdictional and resource constraints. Regional and international cooperation was crucial in managing cross-border anti-competitive practices. Africa’s active participation, context-specific remedies, and cooperation through forums like BRICS were emphasised. Brazil’s discussion on extensive digital market regulations drew inspiration from the EU’s DMA, with concerns raised about transparency, accountability, enforcement power, and low regulation thresholds. International cooperation with BRICS and Latin American authorities showcased collaborative efforts. The upcoming G20 meeting was anticipated for discussions on customer protection, emphasising enhanced cooperation.

The EU’s DMA aimed to regulate digital gatekeepers, ensure fair competition, and prevent market power abuse. The implementation involved close regulation, cooperation, flexibility, and ongoing dialogues with stakeholders and national competition authorities. The DMA’s emphasis on building long-term compliance was noted in conclusion.

On the panel were: Doris Tshepe, Commissioner,  South African Competition Commission; Victor Oliveira Fernandes (online), Commissioner,  Administrative Council Economic Defence, Brazil; Ana Malheiro, Case Handler, DMA Task Force,  Directorate-General for Competition, European Commission; Hee-Eun Kim, Director of Competition Policy, Asia Pacific, Meta; Dr Deni Mantzari, Associate Professor in Competition Law,  University College London (UCL); and Teresa Moreira, Head of Competition and Consumer Policies, UNCTAD.
(Reporting by Mehak Sharma)

Benchmarking Countries’ Progress Globally in Closing the Gender Digital Divide ( Women in Digital Transformation)

The session aimed at understanding the Gender Digital Divide Index (GDDI), a groundbreaking tool addressing the global gender gap in digital access. Acknowledged by leaders in both public and private sectors, gender equality, particularly in the digital realm, lacks a comprehensive measurement approach. The 2022 pilot GDDI study fills this void by offering the first standardised and comprehensive set of metrics, evaluating relevant factors globally across income levels and geographies. Its dynamic nature enables tracking progress over time through interactive analytical tools, marking a significant step towards closing the gender digital divide on a global scale.

The panelists shed light on the e-commerce landscape for women in Cambodia which showcases advancements in online payment adoption and ICT education, supported by government efforts in e-commerce promotion. Yet, obstacles persist inadequate internet in remote areas, limited digital skills, and gender disparities in business negotiations. According to them, to overcome these challenges, targeted digital training and increased gender inclusivity are imperative. Initiatives offering mentorship, international exposure, and better data accessibility are also proving to be effective. Moreover, accelerating digital literacy programmes is also seen to be pivotal for both women’s empowerment and broader economic growth. Addressing these hurdles through sustained support, improved data infrastructure and strategic investments can pave the way for a more inclusive and thriving e-commerce sector in Cambodia. This approach will not only foster economic development but also will propel gender equality forward.

Further, the discussion thoroughly explored the gender digital divide’s complexities, underscoring the importance of measuring progress, recognising local obstacles, and providing ongoing support. Speakers highlighted the absence of global tools while advocating for women’s participation in the digital economy and acknowledging disparities in critical sectors. The launch of the Gender Digital Divide Index gained substantial backing for tracking advancements. Key points focused on overcoming e-commerce barriers for women, stressing continuous support in digital skill development. Emphasis was placed on donor funding for data projects like the Women in the Digital Economy Fund and proposed a unified data repository.

The session also explored the provision of smartphones and training in regions facing a gender digital divide, like Tanzania and Malawi, where the panellists spoke about the positive impact on mobile money usage and women’s financial inclusion. With fewer than 30 per cent of sub-Saharan African women having phone access, there’s a critical need to bridge this gap. Smartphones, in comparison to basic phones, notably enhance household well-being, leading to increased savings in mobile money accounts, though often not utilised for business purposes.

There was discussion on the challenges that arise from societal resistance and violence against women gaining smartphone access, hindering economic empowerment and property rights. Peer influence significantly drives smartphone adoption, with women acquiring them after witnessing their peers’ benefits. Beyond basic phones, smartphones offer economic opportunities, enabling businesses on platforms like WhatsApp.

The session also highlighted how donor-funded projects prioritise effective data management, emphasising data stewardship, open data initiatives, and capacity-building funding.  Speakers stressed using project data for training and empowering national statistical offices to bridge data gaps. Moreover, although sectors value data as an asset, policy frameworks struggle to keep pace with technological advancements, requiring more adaptable governance. These trends signify a positive shift towards efficient data management to address societal challenges.

On the panel were: Kate Gromova, Co-founder and Director of Business Development, Women in Digital Transformation; Socheata Touch, Deputy Director General,  Camchin Law Firm; Shreya Bhattacharya, Senior Research Analyst,  College of William & Mary; and Sophia Anong, International Research Consultant.

(Reporting by Tasmita Sengupta)

Unleashing Digital Trade and Investment for Sustainable Development

Organised by eTrade for all, UNESCAP, UNCTAD and UNIDO, the goal of the session is to launch the new joint Asia-Pacific Trade and Investment 2023. This report looks at the potential of digital trade and investment to support sustainable development. The study explores the rapid growth of digital trade, examining the complexity of the Asia-Pacific policy ecosystem. It outlines the LDCs and emerging economies that are at risk of being excluded.

The paper also outlines the key policy considerations for sustained growth.

  • The first is access to digital infrastructure, to promote competition in telecommunications and address non-tariff barriers in ICT goods and services.
  • The second is creating cost and trust through the implementation of trade, standardising consumer protection and data privacy, and facilitating data transfer.
  • The third is innovation, to strengthen IPR enforcement, standardise technical regulations and enhance competition.
  • The fourth is to attract digital FDI through collaboration with national investment promotion agencies in crafting cohesive strategies.

The paper suggests that trade and investment policies have a specific role to play, such as in creating efficient and trusted digital trade, inclusive digital trade and environmental sustainability.

A panellist mentioned that many countries are looking beyond traditional industries, and this would encourage a subsequent push in government policies as well. However, problems remain within differences across capacity, skills and training. Regulatory fragmentation is also an area to address, considering the differing directions for FDI and data protection. To encourage trade, harmonisation in the region is essential. Countries also need to look into fostering inclusivity considering the differences across urban and rural areas, and states. This can be done through investing in the start-up ecosystem, exploring financing and upskilling opportunities, as well as supporting SMEs. This is especially true since digitalisation offers a great space for SMEs to join the global supply chain.

On the panel were: Frank Van Rompaey, UNIDO Representative to the United Nations and International Organisation in Switzerland at UNIDO; Ratnakar Adhikari Executive Director, Secretariat for the Enhanced Integrated Framework at WTO; Yann Duval, Chief of Trade Policy and Facilitation at Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific; Torbjörn Fredriksson, Head E-commerce and Digital Economy Branch at United Nations Conference on Trade and Development; Rupa Chanda, Director at Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific; Witada Anukoonwattaka, Economic Affairs Officer at Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific; H E Pimchanok Pitfield, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Thailand at WTO and WIPO; Valerie Picard, Head of Trade at International Chamber of Commerce.

Digital Economy Agreements and the Future of Digital Trade Rulemaking

Organised by eTrade for all, CUTS International and DiploFoundation, the session explores the opportunity for regional trade agreements that are specific to digital trade. The panel spans individuals in government, academia and non-governmental organisations to explore Digital Economy Agreements (DEAs) and their ability to promote cross-border digital trade, innovation and economic development.

One panellist mentioned the need for new agreements given the fact that current Free Trade Agreements are limited to the 1990s, but businesses evolve at a rapid pace. Agreements benefit countries by facilitating a smoother transition into paperless trading, enabling harmonisation when it comes to data flows and data protection. It also builds greater business confidence when agreements are reached for source code, cybersecurity and online consumer protection. These benefits can be attained through bilateral, regional and even WTO agreements.

Another panellist spoke about the implications on LDCs, wherein there are different speeds of integration and various levels of digital connectivity and access to the internet. Hence, there is a need to recognise the differences and nuances in various countries’ needs. Their various interests and priorities must also be considered. Their interests will be best seen in the eminent AFCFTA Protocol, representing 33 African LDCs, the largest number of LDCs involved in any existing protocol. As a collective, however, LDCs are behind in regulations that boost trust. As such, there are four main ways to involve LDCs: emphasising a tailored approach for LDCs, prioritising facilitation and trust-boosting regulations, exploring the potential for regional flexible agreements, maximising potential benefits from existing WTO agreements and deep diving into a regulatory gap analysis. The last point was especially emphasised, to closely examine the needs and stakeholder engagement in LDCs.

Speakers: Kholofelo Kugler, PhD Candidate working in the Trade Law 4.0 Project at the University of Lucerne; Yasmin Ismail, Programme Officer at CUTS International, Geneva; Wei Guo Tang, First Secretary (Economics) at Singapore; Marilia Maciel, Head, Digital Commerce and Internet Policy at Diplo Foundation; Dmitry Grozoubinski, Executive Director at Geneva Trade Platform.
(Reported by Ally Tutay)

Bottom-up AI and the Right to be Humanly Imperfect

Organised by eTrade for all and DiploFoundation, this session focuses on exploring the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) and how those working in diplomacy and policymaking can benefit from it, regardless of imperfections. The session recognises the fears that may come with the growth of AI. Firstly, the worry that AI can lead to a loss of ownership over knowledge and increased power of tech companies and algorithms in dominating collective knowledge. Secondly is the relentless pursuit of optimisation for perfection that may put humans and machines at odds with each other. Hence, the panellist aims to explore how humans may regain ownership of thinking patterns.

Firstly, the panellist clarifies that AI today is fundamentally driven by patterns and probability. He uses a live demonstration of AI, asking it to generate a typical example of an African state flag, finding that the flag generated consists mostly of colours from African states with the most amount of online data. Hence, the core of AI is not rule-based, but driven by probability.

The session also explores short-term, mid-term and long-term risks as part of an AI risk taxonomy. The short-term risks include job loss, security breaches and misinformation. The mid-term risk is the potential knowledge monopoly, and the long-term risk are extinction risk. However, these are still tempered by opportunities to explore AI as a possibility for growth as opposed to a doomsday threat. The panellist also showcased tools supported by DiploFoundation to utilise AI in helping diplomats in their work through a holistic approach.

On the panel were: Sorina Teleanu, Director of Knowledge at DiploFoundation; Jovan Kurbalija; Executive Director at DiploFoundation

(Reported by Ally Tutay)

Enhancing the Transition from Offline to Online for Small Businesses in the Pacific

Organised by eTrade for all, Pacific Island Forum Secretariat (PIFs) and PACER Plus Implementing Unit, this session explores the challenges in the Pacific for microenterprises. It explores the e-commerce business toolkits developed by PIFs to aid microenterprises’ shift from the offline to online community. Specifically, it guides in starting an online presence, dealing with risks and other sector-specific challenges. These toolkits come with training, mentoring and financial support.

A panellist spoke about the need to uplift businesses in the Pacific because they are the backbone of growth. This creates a need for an aid strategy, especially focused on digital technology, which remains the biggest barrier, especially for small businesses. Another key challenge identified is shipment and getting products out. This calls for a need for improved infrastructure as well, and bringing the whole world online.

PIF toolkits are meant to promote this, where a lot of the work is centred on the knowledge product. These can be accessed through the Pacific e-commerce portal, which also enables coordination throughout the Pacific itself. The toolkit involves mentorship, as well as help provided on various levels of financing, from opening bank accounts to accessing credit cards.

The panel also offered views from an entrepreneur and owner of microenterprise in the Pacific, who outlined that mentorship and the constant cycle of passing down knowledge is essential. She specifically outlined the creation of a community through forums that facilitate the exchange of ideas.

On the panel were: Sven Callebaut, Director, Adviser on Trade, Regional Integration, Digital Trade Policy, Digital Transformation for Governments in Asia and the Pacific, ASEAN, DEFA, IPEF, Pacer Plus at TradeWorthy Ltd; Tomaz Gorisek, Economic Affairs Manager at Permanent Delegation of the European Union to the United Nations Office and other international organisations in Geneva; Candice Guavis, Marketing Manager at Elefa Handicraft Shop; Andrea Ibba, Pacific E-commerce Coordinator at Pacific Island Forum Secretariat; and Olivia Phongkham, Trade in Services and Investment Lead at PACER Plus Implementation Unit.