Leads ‘Ecommerce for development’ debate at WTO

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan led “Ecommerce for development debate at the World Trade Organization” (WTO) in Geneva and organized a seminar as the founding coordinator of Friends of Ecommerce for Development, which was inaugurated by Commerce Minister Khurram Dastgir on Friday.

It was attended by a large number of WTO members, ambassadors and heads of leading Geneva-based trade institutions, according to a message received by The News. WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo, ITU Secretary General Zhao, UN Conference on Trade & Development Secretary General Dr Kituyi, and Executive Director of International Trade Center Arancha Gonzalez also participated in the event.

All heads of agencies appreciated the initiative taken by Pakistan. Pakistan’s Ambassador to WTO coordinated the “friends of Ecommerce for development”. The group comprises Costa Rica, Nigeria, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Argentina and Uruguay.

Representatives of World Bank, WTO Etrade for All, EBay, Alibaba and Mercado Libre made presentations on how Ecommerce can help businesses and trade in developing and less developed countries (LDCs). Country experiences from Sri Lanka, Argentina, Nigeria, Pakistan and ASEAN, were presented and debated.

The commerce minister said that Pakistan is acutely aware of the high growth of Ecommerce, and its potential to address development deficit. During last two years, after auction of 3G/4G spectrum, the consumers in Pakistan using broadband on mobile have increased from three million to 37 million. This broadband penetration rate is doubling every single year since 2013.

Khurram Dastgir said the Global Findex report shows Pakistan as the leader in mobile banking transactions in South Asia, having 133 million mobile phone subscribers and 11% of them use mobile phones to carry out financial transactions. E-Commerce in Pakistan is expected to reach $1 billion by 2020. The parliament is working hard to update the rules and regulations governing digital trade.

“In a national consultation held last month in Pakistan, our stakeholders said, ‘We have missed the plastic phase of ecommerce revolution; we cannot afford to miss the mobile digital phase of ecommerce’. They identified efficient, frictionless and low cost payment systems and consumer trust and protection as key to Ecommerce in Pakistan.”

Khurram Dastgir said that Ecommerce is an inescapable fact of life and has grown beyond our imagination. “The digital economy has emerged as an unstoppable giant that is growing at 10pc a year, more than triple the rate of overall global economic growth. Digital is no longer a part of the economy — it is becoming the economy. Internet revolution contributes 8% of global GDP. The development of mobile broadband holds the promises to bring billions more on line, thus narrowing the digital, economic, physical and educational divide. The Internet of things or internet of everything has the potential of contributing $11 trillion to global GDP by 2025. Internet related consumption and expenditure has already surpassed the size of the global agriculture and energy sectors. But only a small proportion of this is happening in LDCs and developing countries.”

He said that it was this reality which motivated the group of like-minded countries to launch Friends of Ecommerce for Development, key motivation being to narrow the knowledge gap that exists between members in understanding and appreciating different dimensions of Ecommerce.

The minister said that the seminar was first major initiative of Friends of Ecommerce for Development; rather it was a joint initiative of Friends of Ecommerce for Development. This event has only been possible through exemplary support of WTO, UNCTAD, ITC, World Bank and all members of the group namely Costa Rica, Argentina, Sri Lanka, Nigeria and Kenya.

Khurram Dastgir said that an overview of today’s agenda clearly acknowledges two things: Ecommerce is multidimensional and multi-agency and it requires very close private public partnership, and inter agency coordination. “The prime objective of this seminar is to debate the opportunities and challenges offered by Ecommerce for LDCs, Land Locked Countries and Small Island economies in particular, and developing countries in general. Considering the complexities of e-Commerce, we need more engaged and structured discussions in form of seminars and workshops so that members particularly developing and LDCs get better understanding of challenges and opportunities associated with e-Commerce and identify areas of work catering for their interests. We would specially suggest more engaged interaction between experts in the technologies, and how they impact trade and trade negotiators in order to bring out and understand all the challenges associated with digital economy for developing and LDC members.”