4 June 2019
ITC News

The world of 2019 is very different than the world of 1995 when the World Trade Organization was established. The way we produce, trade and consume been transformed by technology and efficiencies in transportation and global poverty has decreased.

We are witnessing a digital revolution which has made information more freely available than ever before but we are also in the midst of an ecological crisis where the limits of the planet is being tested and we are seeing social agitation with citizens across the world demanding better jobs, less inequality and a greater stake in global governance.

In the world of trade, the digital revolution has reshaped the ways countries interact as well as how companies move goods, services and information across borders.

Apple launched its first iPhone in 2007; today, one in three people across the world owns a smart phone. Africa, with its growing youth population is part of this revolution with 15% of the continent’s 400 million mobile-phone subscribers owning a smart phone.

Over the past decade global e-commerce has been expanding at an average rate of 20% a year, with some countries hitting 50%, as bricks-and-mortar shops have languished. And while this trend keeps accelerating in many parts of the world, poor logistics remain a barrier to e-commerce growth in many developing countries.

Indeed, such dramatic progress makes it easy to forget that more than half the world’s population is not connected to the internet. While internet penetration is high in some parts of the world, reaching 95% in Europe, in Africa it is only around 36%, according to Internet World Stats.

If we are to achieve the overarching goal of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – leaving no one behind – this has to change.

For trade in the digital economy, a recent step in the right direction was taken in January, when a group of World Trade Organization members launched talks on rules to govern global e-commerce. This matters, for the future of global commerce and it is important for all countries that they have a stake in the discussions and eventual outcome.

Technology was creating new opportunities for trade long before the advent of the digital economy. In this issue of International Trade Forum, logistics company UPS describes how it is taking advantage of technology to reach more people across the world and, in effect, connecting more people to global markets. Meanwhile, the IRU, the road transport organization, explains how technology makes it easier to transport goods across borders.

Be it in Africa, Asia or Latin America and the Caribbean, micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) are realizing the benefits that come with technology and are increasingly taking advantage of these opportunities. But for MSMEs in developing countries to truly reap the benefits of participating in international trade, they need greater support such as access to finance and access to technology.

At ITC we are stepping up our efforts in response to these needs by working with our partners in the public and private sectors to ensure that the technologies needed to succeed in trade in the 21st century reach those that need them the most.

But for the world to truly benefit from the opportunities provided by the digital revolution, we need to ensure that more players play a greater part in ensuring that technology delivers for all and that no one is truly left behind.