BRICS countries: Reimagine business in a digital age

12 December 2022
ITC News

This report pinpoints mobile network costs and access to women entrepreneurs among challenges to scale up inclusive digital economies, and offers road maps for action.

The BRICS countries – Brazil, Russian Federation, India, China and South Africa – are attractive investment destinations for digital sectors due to large markets, a growing middle class, well-developed digital infrastructure and expanding youth populations with solid digital skills.

The digital economy contribution to BRICS’ GDP in recent years is considerable. Estimates from government documents range from 2% in South Africa and 4% in the Russian Federation to 6.9% in India, 7.8% in China and 22% in Brazil. Almost 90% of the populations in BRICS countries are covered by 3G/4G mobile networks and 5G networks have begun to roll out.

While internet use has surged since 2020, largely due to better accessibility and lower costs, mobile internet costs are still higher than the global average and women’s access to the internet needs to be further improved. BRICS countries collectively account for about 30% of the global export of information and communication technology (ICT) goods, but only 11% of global export of digitally deliverable services.

To build on this potential, they can work more closely to bridge digital gaps, improve regulatory environments and drive business cooperation.

These are among the key findings of the International Trade Centre’s (ITC) BRICS Digital Economy Report 2022, which explores how the BRICS can ensure that small firms and low-income populations are included in this reimagining of business in the digital age.

‘BRICS need to bridge the digital divide, enhance education and skills, support innovation and digital entrepreneurship, improve the policy environment and strengthen international cooperation,’ says ITC Executive Director Pamela Coke-Hamilton. ‘The BRICS cooperation mechanism can help, as it forges mutual support among BRICS countries and provides support to other developing countries.’ 

The report urges policymakers to bridge the digital divide by sharing information on digital infrastructure investment policies, financing digital infrastructure projects, promoting digital literacy, upskilling small firms and supporting women-owned digital businesses. Investing in advanced, future-oriented segments of the digital economy will trigger ‘leapfrogging’ opportunities that can enable BRICS countries to make a quick jump in economic development.

BRICS governments should advance digital governance discussions, especially at the international level, and improve measurement of the digital economy through supporting the G20 workstreams and encouraging the private sector to help out on data-collection efforts, the report says.

The private sector’s involvement is essential to the digital transformation, as is greater cooperation among research institutions, universities and business communities, according to the report. ITC prepared the report with collaboration from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development as an input to the BRICS meetings hosted by China earlier this year.