> Roberto Azevêdo’s speeches
Executive Director Gonzalez,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Good morning and welcome to the WTO.
Let me start by thanking the “Friends of e-commerce for Development” group for this initiative and for their kind invitation. That means Argentina, Costa Rica, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Uruguay — thank you all.
This is a very important conversation, illustrated by the level of representation here today — on the podium, and the turnout in the room.
Technological advances and the booming number of internet users mean that e-commerce is spreading and evolving at an unprecedented pace.
Between 2000 and 2015, Internet penetration increased from 6.5 per cent to 43 per cent of the global population.
Last year e-commerce was worth around 22 trillion dollars.
And, on both fronts, the numbers continue to rise rapidly.
This is, quite simply, a revolution in the way businesses operate and the way trade is conducted.
It is a force to lower barriers to trade. It provides a global platform for businesses, allowing them to:
- access a global marketplace,
- reach a wider range of consumers, and
- potentially join global value chains.
And for consumers it means access to a broader selection of products, from a wider range of suppliers, and likely at more competitive prices.
I think we can all agree that these are positive developments. However, there is still a long way to go to ensure that the benefits and opportunities of e-commerce are available to all.
Big gaps persist. Today, 4 billion people in the developing world remain offline.
Only one in four people in Africa use the Internet — and only one in seven people in LDCs.
Connectivity remains a major challenge.
This means two things.
One, there is huge unexplored potential here. Helping to bridge these imbalances could help many more to use technology as a springboard to join trade flows, especially the smaller companies.
And two, if that potential is to be realised, any moves on e-commerce would need to be accompanied by significant support to improve connectivity, capacity and infrastructure in those countries that need it the most.
We don’t deal directly with hard infrastructure at the WTO and so I’ve been talking to our partners about how the necessary resources could be mobilised.
I have also been talking to partners such as the IMF, World Bank, and Regional Development Banks, to see what help they may be able to provide.
This is an area which relates to the work of many organisations — not least those represented on this panel.
UNCTAD Secretary-General Kituyi and I have discussed this in detail — and we’re committed to joining forces on this point.
I think there is also great potential for collaboration with the ITU, and so I’m pleased that Secretary-General Houlin Zhau is here this morning. We are already planning to meet and have a more in depth conversation about the potential for cooperation between our two organizations.
And of course, the ITC has an important role in delivering some of this work on the ground — so it’s great that Arancha is with us as well. She has been very active in this area so I urge you to pay close attention to what she has to say.
I think the partnership approach is essential here.
The 6th Global Review of Aid for Trade will be a good opportunity to further these conversations.
This event will be held at the WTO in July 2017, and members will be putting a particular focus on connectivity. I encourage you all to take part.
Of course, getting connected is not the end of this conversation.
We can’t just assume that people will automatically benefit from greater opportunities once they are online. It is a necessary condition, but it is not sufficient.
A range of other economic and technological barriers can still cause problems — such as underdeveloped financial and payment systems, low consumer trust, and weak legal and regulatory frameworks. Bigger companies are often in a position to overcome these problems, while smaller companies are not.
Some of these issues emerged at the General Council meeting on Wednesday, when the Chair reported extensively on the latest consultations on e-commerce.
E-commerce has been on the WTO agenda since 1998 — and not much happened for a long time in that dossier. Perhaps as a result of our two successful ministerial conferences, it seems that now the debate here is significantly more dynamic. We now have eight e-commerce submissions on the table for discussion.
However, these discussions are still at an early stage. Many delegations are taking part — developing and developed — while some others are less forthcoming. What is important is that all members are given the opportunity to participate, should they wish to do so. And this ability to be part of the conversation doesn’t exist in most other fora.
Clearly there are different views among members on how to conduct the work in this area. And there are some concerns that the digital divide and the knowledge gap would limit an inclusive conversation on e-commerce issues.
These are legitimate concerns. And we need to address this information gap to allow for a meaningful and inclusive debate.
One way to address this is to engage in conversations and information exchanges to better understand the e-commerce landscape.
In this context, this initiative today is very welcome — as was the event held in July by the MIKTA Group.
Indeed, today’s event builds on a number of workshops in recent months which have encouraged a deeper analysis of e-commerce issues. This includes this year’s Public Forum, where over 20 sessions addressed issues related to e-commerce and the digital economy.
These events help to facilitate an open exchange of information and national experiences, which can only help us to narrow the information gaps.
I encourage members to engage in these activities, learn from them, and make their voices heard. Your input is important to ensure that the debates respond to your needs. And, of course, the Secretariat is here to facilitate any engagements that members would like to see.
Again, I stress that partnership will be vital here. By working together we can ensure that the development challenges posed by digital trade are addressed in a concerted manner. This applies across the board, whether we’re looking at gaps in infrastructure, knowledge or any other area.
In conclusion, it is WTO members who must decide whether and how to take this work forward.
However, it’s clear that sessions like this can only help to inform the debate and increase understanding. As with all areas of our work, it is vital that the development aspects are placed at the forefront.
I hope that today’s work will provide further clarity on this point — and shed more light on how we can ensure that the e-commerce revolution is not a revolution for the few — but one that is truly inclusive, and responsive to the needs of all.I wish you an engaging debate — and look forward to hearing the outcomes of your deliberations.