Thank you Ambassador Muylle,

Distinguished panelists,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Good afternoon. I am pleased to join you today. I only have a few minutes, but I wanted to make sure that I had the chance to address this very important discussion.

E-commerce and the evolution of the digital economy are fundamentally changing the economic landscape. This has a direct impact on the way we do business and conduct trade. And these changes are happening at a fantastic pace.

According to the latest data for 2017, e-commerce sales have reached an annual growth of 13%, reaching a value of around USD 29 trillion.

In fact, a WTO study found that by lowering costs and increasing productivity, digital technologies could provide an additional boost to trade by up to 34% by 2030.

This has tremendous potential to boost inclusivity and help more people benefit from trade.

By reducing the trade costs associated with distance, e-commerce allows businesses – big and small – to reach a broader network of buyers, access the most competitive suppliers, tap into global markets and participate in global value chains.

But transforming this potential into reality is not automatic. 

The digital divide still poses a big barrier for countries' ability to engage in e-commerce.

You all know the figures. Across Africa, only one in four people uses the internet. In LDCs, it's less than one in ten.

And the gap is not only between developed and developing countries, but also between men and women, rural and urban areas, small and large firms.

This is not only about connectivity. The obstacles range from poor infrastructure and limited or costly internet access to inadequate regulatory frameworks or the need for new skills and training.

We need to address these challenges if we want e-commerce to be a real force for inclusion. The risk is that if we don't act, these gaps will only widen - and pose an even bigger obstacle for countries to pursue their growth and development goals.

The fact is that these technologies will continue to evolve and permeate our lives. We cannot stop that. They are here to stay. We should welcome this reality, and the opportunities this brings. And we have to ensure that we build the necessary frameworks and capacities to ensure that everybody can participate.

While a lot of work needs to happen domestically, the international community can also play an important role to that end. Over the past few years, at the WTO, we have witnessed growing interest in discussing e-commerce issues in more detail.

This includes the work under the existing Work Programme on Electronic Commerce.

And it includes the Joint Initiative on E-commerce.

This initiative, which is open to all WTO members, now includes 78 members representing 90% of global trade. And they have now begun negotiations on e‑commerce issues, as they relate to trade.

We are seeing discussions touch upon a range of issues, including conversations related to development. Participants are interested in understanding the unique challenges faced by developing countries and LDCs and what kind of assistance they need to participate in e-commerce flows.

This is encouraging. This effort should be as inclusive as possible.

We can't allow a fragmentation of the digital world.

It would mean higher costs and higher barriers to entry, affecting developing countries and smaller businesses the most. In fact, this was a strong message that has also emerged from the G20 Summit in Osaka, where leaders launched the "Osaka track" to help guide these efforts.

I think the international community has a unique opportunity now to address some of the fundamental challenges of the digital economy and build a more inclusive trading system.

Today's discussion is a welcome addition – helping to further deepen and widen the debate. I would like to thank Belgium for their leadership in organizing this event.

So keep up the good work.

I wish you a successful event and look forward to hearing about your deliberations.

Thank you.




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