World news story

Launch of the UNCTAD Information Economy Report 2017: UK Statement

This statement was delivered at the launch of the UNCTAD Information Economy Report 2017 on 3 October 2017.

UNCTAD is headquartered at the Palais des Nations in Geneva
UNCTAD is headquartered at the Palais des Nations in Geneva

It is a pleasure to discuss with you the opportunities and challenges that lie before us that comes with digitalisation, trade and development.

I was struck while reading the report by two fundamental points which I believe are important to emphasise here today:

  • the first is the rate of transformation that the internet and technological advances are having on all aspects of the global economy. We all have anecdotal evidence about these advances, often seen firsthand whenever we get a new phone or laptop. But the increase in the flow of data (whether across borders or not) and the connection of exponentially more devices to the internet is driving significant changes to the global economy that for most of us here in Geneva, we are not witnessing firsthand

  • and the second is the comprehensive nature of the policy response which is needed to address these changes – this is not just about trade policy, skills education, telecommunication regulation or internet governance alone in their respective silos – but rather a combination of all of these at the domestic, regional and global levels

As the report notes, by reducing distance and transactional costs digital trade has the potential to empower entrepreneurs and businesses of all sizes, connecting them to the global economy. The challenge facing all of us is how to ensure that all countries can benefit from this growth.

The UK believes that the digital economy, digitally delivered services and e-commerce in particular, are important drivers to wider economic growth. This is especially true in the UK which UNCTAD’s own statistics estimate to be the third biggest market in the world behind the US and China in some sectors.

Access to the internet has been estimated to have the potential to generate over $2.2 trillion in additional GDP in the developing world; the UK’s public and private sectors will have a role to play in connecting millions of the world’s citizens who are still offline, creating jobs around the world that are ready to confront the technological challenges of our future.

In addition, the digital economy can only thrive within a free and open internet support by multi-stakeholder governance, with effective cyber security knowledge and practices. Traders, service providers and their customers - all of us - need to have confidence in the modern electronic marketplace.

We agree with the report that any digital discussions in a trade forum should keep the development and inclusiveness agenda firmly in mind. I would be interested in hearing from the discussion later in this session about how this can be done.

The UK has been working, along with other delegations, to encourage the Geneva institutions to recognise the economic potential of the global digital market and to work to encourage different institutions to work together to remove barriers to digital trade.

If the international system doesn’t catch up with advances being made in services and digital trade this will be harmful to economies both of developed and developing countries and stifle the real opportunities for greater prosperity and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals that the digital economy provides.

I would encourage the UNCTAD Secretariat as well as other delegations to consider how we can do this together and help countries and companies respond to this multifaceted challenge.

If I may swap hats for the final part of my intervention. As the UK Ambassador to the World Trade Organisation, I began my chairmanship of the Council for Trade in Services earlier this year. In this context, there have been two important discussions ongoing in the Council.

The first is that WTO Members’ continue to discuss e-commerce and digitally-enabled services trade as a tool for generating economic prosperity as part of the WTO’s work programme on e-commerce.

The second concerns the LDCs Services Waiver. In December 2015 at the tenth WTO Ministerial Conference, Ministers agreed a Decision on the Implementation of Preferential Treatment in Favour of Services and Service Suppliers of Least Developed Countries and Increasing LDC Participation in Services Trade.

Ministers also tasked the Council for Trade in Services to: continue discussing and promoting the operationalisation of the Waiver; facilitate an exchange of information on technical assistance measures undertaken to promote the increasing participation of LDCs in world services trade; and, further discuss any issues that may facilitate benefits provided under the notified preferences.

While not formally part of the Waiver process, UNCTAD’s eTrade-for-All, which the UK has supported financially, is an excellent example of how the international community can work to increase the participation of LDCs in world services trade through the mobilisation of resources in support of e-commerce projects in LDCs and other developing countries.

Published 3 October 2017