UNCTAD eWeek 2023 (Day-5)

CUTS Daily Bulletin #5, December 8-2023

The Right to Data for Development

Can ‘data rights’ deliver greater equity in a digital economy? Human rights must inform how we bridge the digital divide to include people’s relationship to data. Data is a factor of productivity. How it is used in the digital economy does not necessarily respect human rights. Can we avoid ‘data slavery’ by sharing the value of data people create? The session, organised by Bluenumber (USA), International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (Mexico) and The Sourcery (Netherlands), discussed how to make bridging the digital and data divide a mechanism to deliver tangible benefits to economic development.

Panellists emphasised that collecting primary data is a crucial step in streamlining and leveraging the potential of the textile sector. While farmers have benefited from the data in terms of market linkages and soil health, they have also become suppliers of free datasets. It is essential that they not only act as data providers but also evolve into data entrepreneurs. A poor dataset limits financial benefits and diminishes the added value to the final product. A responsible dataset can play a key role in ensuring traceability and providing evidence for sustainable production.

Crop data belongs to farmers and holds the potential to contribute to sustainable development goals. However, there are challenges in streamlining and ensuring interoperability of the generated dataset. Multiple entities are collecting and using the dataset, but there is a reluctance to share it. This leads to the creation of data silos, making it crucial to establish and ensure data rights that benefit all stakeholders. To achieve this, developing data infrastructure that adheres to standards, ethics, and privacy is essential.

One panellist remarked that the long-term effect of policy inaction of the national government on digital public infrastructure will be weak national data sovereignty. This will limit the capacity of national governments to make free decisions, affecting citizens and businesses within the digital domain.

Another panellist underscored that responsible data stewardship is an iterative, systemic process of ensuring that data is collected, used and shared for public benefit. This also helps in mitigating the ways that data can produce harm and addressing how it can resolve structural inequalities.

On the panel were: Andrea Gardeazabal Monsalue CGIAR-CIMMYT; Puvan Selvanathan CEO, Bluenumber; Nazrul Mansor Federal Land Development Authority (FELDA); Benjamin Kwasi Addom, Adviser, Agriculture & Fisheries Trade Policy, Commonwealth Secretariat (CS); Ruchita Chhabra, The Sourcery (Netherlands/India); Tim Engelhardt, Human Rights Officer, UN OHCHR; and Elea Himmelsbach, Senior Consultant, Open Data Institute.

(Reporting by Asheef Iqubaal)

A Regional Approach to E-commerce and Digital Trade in the Pacific

Improved digital connectivity in the Pacific is fostering e-commerce, providing businesses access to diverse markets, essential for overcoming geographical barriers. Yet, alongside these opportunities, there are risks: while digital technology can drive inclusive growth, it might exacerbate inequalities, a concern heightened by the pandemic’s impact on market concentration.

To address this, the Pacific E-commerce Initiative, a collaboration between Forum Islands Countries, development agencies, and donors, aims to enhance digital trade readiness. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the Pacific Islands Forum have conducted assessments and aided six nations in crafting e-commerce strategies. The session emphasised the need for a regional strategy to bolster the e-commerce policy landscape while showcasing varied national challenges and opportunities within this broader framework.

The transformative potential of e-commerce in the Pacific, as endorsed in the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent, is hindered by challenges, such as high internet costs and limited accessibility. To address these barriers, the Pacific Regional e-commerce initiative has been launched, emphasising the importance of partnerships in overcoming obstacles and maximising e-commerce potential, especially crucial post-COVID-19. Trade emerges as a solution to overcome geographical challenges, connecting the Pacific to global markets, fostering growth, and benefiting smaller businesses through inclusive approaches using digital platforms.

Additionally, the joint initiative on e-commerce within the World Trade Organisation (WTO) is seen as a valuable avenue for the Pacific region, particularly for SMEs and gender equality. Encouraging participation in such initiatives is recommended for advancement. Ensuring alignment between national and regional e-commerce structures is vital for cohesive functionality across diverse levels and regions. Efforts in Tonga and Tuvalu through dedicated national e-commerce committees exemplify this approach, fostering discussions, implementing strategies, and promoting coordination between national and regional levels.

The Pacific region’s e-commerce potential, hindered by challenges yet buoyed by strategic initiatives and trade prospects, underscores the necessity of partnerships, inclusive trade practices, and synchronised structures between national and regional levels to fully leverage the benefits of e-commerce.

Amidst these initiatives, fostering digital literacy and skill development across the Pacific becomes pivotal. Equipping individuals with the necessary tools and knowledge to navigate the digital landscape empowers them to actively participate in e-commerce activities. Investing in education and training programmes geared toward digital literacy ensures that communities, especially in remote or underserved areas, can leverage e-commerce opportunities effectively. By emphasising skill development alongside infrastructure enhancement, the Pacific region can cultivate a more inclusive and sustainable digital economy, further bridging the gap in accessing global markets and fostering economic growth.

On the panel were: H.E. Mere Falemaka, Permanent Representative at The Pacific Islands Forum Geneva Office; H.E. George Mina, Ambassador, Australian Permanent Mission at the WTO, Geneva; Manoa Kamikamica, the Deputy Prime Minister of Fiji; Bram Peters, Programme Manager at UN Capital Development Fund; Rebeca Grynspan, Secretary-General at UNCTAD; Sven Callebaut, Director at TradeWorthy Ltd.; Henry Puna, Secretary General at Pacific Islands Forum; and Shelley Burich, Founder at Vaoala Vanilla, Samoa.

(Reporting by Saloni Mishra)

Private Sector Perspectives: Building Consensus for an Enabling Digital Economy Environment

This session organised by the Slovak Alliance for Innovation Economy (SAPIE) and CIPE examines how public-private partnerships can be developed. This is to boost inclusivity and equity within the digital space. This is especially essential in emerging markets, where MSMEs are attuned to the disparities that limit market access and economic opportunity. The session specifically explores the partnerships in Colombia, the Philippines and Slovakia to examine the potential here.

One panellist mentioned the need for empathy when engaging in partnerships because many MSMEs also wish for change but are constrained given the situations. As such, there is a need to boost digital maturity, explore synergies and build capacity. Digital literacy also needs to be promoted amongst policymakers as well, to increase the level of understanding across the two groups.

Another panellist also spoke about the need to find synergies between the private and public sectors to build trust. She mentions that one way to do so is to ally with consortiums and advocacies and focus on areas of agreement instead of being fixated on differences. Compromise is essential for both parties, to build familiarity and grow the relationship.

To make the digital economy more inclusive, tech developers need to be aware of the design process to examine whether the digital space they are creating is user-friendly, and cost-friendly and must be critical of any biases in the technology. There needs to be constant dialogue and consultation between users and developers, as well as a framework to standardise and build practices for such dialogue.

(Reporting by Ally Tutay)

Rethinking Africa’s Digital Trade

Entrepreneurship, Innovation, & Value Creation in the Age of Generative AI

The session was organised by the African Union Commission: Economic Development, Tourism, Trade, Industry, Mining (ETTIM) and Data Economy Policy Hub (DepHUB). Panellists discussed the role of generative AI in e-commerce, trade-in services and the various ways to unlock Africa’s digital business potential. They argued for the need to pool resources to create solutions for digital trade in Africa and stressed the need to create an international database system to monitor human rights violations in AI. In their view, such a database would play the role of regulatory approval authority for market access, while strengthening global technology collaboration to drive innovation.

Panellists discussed the need for individuals to know what data collectors intend to do with the data that is being gathered. In their view, this is important to ensure human rights on data are protected in the context of innovation. The panellists supported the use of data to promote innovation, provided that human rights are respected. In their view, AI should be regulated through a concerted effort at the regional level. They noted that many countries are struggling to regulate AI.


Consequently, the panellists highlighted the imperative for a comprehensive and inclusive approach in regulatory endeavours, ensuring the representation of diverse stakeholder voices. Emphasising the necessity of engaging AI experts, predominantly drawn from academic circles, they underscore the significance of incorporating a broad spectrum of perspectives from all stakeholders. However, they warned against allowing major tech corporations to dominate these conversations given their potential for biased inclinations and monopolistic behaviors. Panellists asserted that dismantling silos in such inclusive discussions is crucial for forging sustainable and inclusive trade agreements.

On the panel were: Katalin Bokor, Economic Affairs Officer,  UNCTAD; Emily Jones, Associate Professor, University of Oxford; Peter G Kirchschlaeger, Director of the Institute of Social Ethics (ISE),  University Of Lucerne; Shamira Ahmed, Executive Director,  Data Economy Policy Hub (DepHUB); and Javier Lopez Gonzalez, Senior Economist OECD Trade and Agriculture Directorate,  OECD.

(Reporting by Peter Maundu)

Africa and the Digital Divide: Perspectives and Policies for Catch-Up

The session was organised by the Africa Trade Network and Southern and Eastern Africa Trade Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI)-Uganda. During the session, panellists discussed policy needs, best practices and the way forward to promote an inclusive digital economy in Africa. They noted that e-commerce in Africa is growing at a rapid pace. However, they argued that the continent’s e-commerce platforms find it difficult to venture into the global market as they are limited to a single country.

Panellists called for the creation of Afro-centred data centres through cooperation. These data centres should be supported by policies. Africa’s non-participation in Joint Statement Initiatives (JSIs) was cited as a major challenge in bridging the digital divide on the continent. Panellists called for cooperation between African nations to finance their broadband connectivity.  They insisted on the creation of reliable digital payments and on improving internet availability, access and affordability. They also called for improved policy space to develop data governance.

Panellists noted that only 37 per cent of Africans use the internet, making it difficult for them to participate in the digital economy. Africa lags behind other regions, with significant gaps between genders (men and women) and geographical areas (rural and urban). Business rules in Africa are not integrating more people into the continent’s digital economy. They deplored the fact that over 80 per cent of e-commerce and digital businesses in Africa operate in single-market economies. This is due to weak infrastructure, unreliable payments, underestimation of the movement of people, goods and services, and security issues.

Panellists called for the liberalisation of the digital economy through trade agreements, where the mercantile interests of big business should be tamed during negotiations. These large companies do not support local interests. Among the main concerns of African countries are the free cross-border circulation of data, the absence of any obligation to localise data on the African continent, and the prohibition of any data contained in the source code. These rules are drawn up and imposed on African member states with short deadlines for adoption.

According to the panellists, these issues, if allowed to play out, will lead to total discrimination against African countries. Cross-border data transfer, according to the panellists, must be addressed to guarantee Africa’s sovereign rights over its data. They called on African countries to join the WTO JSIs.

On the panel were: Jane Nalunga, Executive Director and Expert on Trade, Tax and Investment,  Southern and Eastern Africa Trade Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI) Uganda; Peter S Nalanda, Counsellor,  Permanent Mission of the Republic of Kenya, United Nations; Naidu Vahini, Programme Coordinator, Trade and Development Programme, South Centre; Tetteh Hormeku-Ajei, Head of Programmes, Third World Network-Africa; and Wullo Sylvester Bagooro Programme Officer, Third World Network-Africa.

(Reporting by Peter Maundu)

Platform Livelihoods and Digital Inclusion

This session organised by Caribou Digital (UK) and Qhala (Kenya) focussed on the Platform Livelihoods Project, featuring a book launch and policy discussion. The project documents how individuals ‘work, trade, rent, and create’ to earn a living in the platform era. The broad approach highlights how similar logics shape gig work, social and e-commerce, the creative sectors, and agriculture, and identifies common priorities in design, upskilling, and social protection to make platform livelihoods more inclusive, particularly for women, youth and persons with disabilities (PwDs).

Panellists examined the role played by women in the platform economy, underscoring the noteworthy contributions they make to this dynamic economic landscape. Many women engage in platform work alongside traditional employment, however, face issues such as underbidding for jobs and trust and safety concerns. Women often self-teach the skills required for platform work, raising questions about the quality of education and training.

Despite the crucial role women play, questions arise about the extent of their empowerment in the platform economy, especially with a concerning trend of regressing gender-inclusive policies. Panellists underscored the need to address challenges like underbidding, trust issues, and the self-taught nature of skills. Ensuring gender equality in the platform economy is deemed essential for a more inclusive and equitable future.

In Kenya, the youth leverage digital platforms for various livelihoods, including online selling, transport services, real estate, content creation and freelancing. While the platform economy provides opportunities, challenges exist, particularly in the lack of accessibility and inclusivity for PwDs. E-commerce platforms are often not adapted, with 90 per cent of PwDs relying on WhatsApp for online activities, indicating the need for more accessible platforms.

Talking about the experience of PwDs in e-commerce, panellists highlighted significant challenges. E-commerce platforms lack accessibility for sellers with disabilities, leading to privacy concerns and discrimination. Many PwDs prefer social commerce platforms due to better accommodation. Gender disparities persist, with women in platform work receiving lower returns but reporting higher contentment due to flexibility.

As a way forward, panellists underscored the need for policy-level changes to enhance market accessibility, with a call for further research into the gender perspective in platform work and disabled individuals’ preferences. The discussion concluded by emphasising the urgency for improved accessibility, policy reforms, research, and skills training to create an inclusive digital economy and reduce inequalities.

On the panel were: Savita Bailur, Research Director at Caribou Digital, UK;  Jonathan Donner, Senior Director of Research at Caribou Digital; and  James Angoye, Research Coordinator at inABLE, Kenya.

(Reporting by Krishaank Jugiani)

CSTD Open Consultation on WSIS+20

The session discussed the importance of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructure for sustainable development. It was emphasised that stable internet connectivity, secure access to electricity, and affordable communications devices are crucial for the development and growth of ICT infrastructure in rural areas. These factors are seen as essential for promoting economic and social progress in rural areas.

The necessity of education and training programmes was also highlighted as a means to ensure that people are equipped with the necessary skills to benefit from technology. This includes the promotion of digital culture and the provision of vocational training in areas linked to ICTs. By developing the skills and knowledge required to effectively use and leverage technology, individuals can take advantage of the opportunities offered by ICT infrastructure.

The discussion also underscored the importance of promoting innovation and entrepreneurship. Supporting start-ups through incubators, accelerators, and funding is seen as essential for fostering a conducive environment for innovation. This, in turn, can contribute to economic growth and the creation of decent work opportunities.

A panellist pointed out that as ICT infrastructure continues to expand, protecting against cybercrime and ensuring data confidentiality becomes increasingly important. By implementing strong cyber security measures, individuals and organisations can mitigate risks and safeguard the integrity of their digital systems.

On the panel were: H.E Sabri Bachtobji, Ambassador Permanent Representative of Tunisia to the United Nations Office at Geneva at Permanent Mission of Tunisia to the United Nations Office at Geneva; Jorge Cancio Melia, Deputy Director International Relations at Switzerland; Silvana Fumega, Director at Global Data Barometer, Buenos Aires; Pauline Kariuki, Co-Founder & CTO at Mawu Africa; Sulyna Abdullah, Special Advisor to the Secretary-General & Chief, Strategic Planning and Membership at International Telecommunication Union; Ichwan Makmur Nasution, Head of Centre for International Affairs at Indonesia; Ana Cristina das Neves, Chair, Bureau of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development, UNCTAD; and Shamika N Sirimanne, Director, Division on Technology and Logistics, UNCTAD.

(Reporting by Srajan Tambi)