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WTO urges tech companies to make e-commerce a force for inclusion

WTO  Director-General Roberto Azevêdo has urged technology companies to make e-commerce force for inclusion.

The WTO head of the multilateral trade body made this call at the  recent roundtable event organized by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) at Facebook’s headquarters in Silicon Valley attended by tech companies, ranging from start-ups, represented by Allied for Startups, to industry leaders including Facebook, Google, Alibaba, PayPal and eBay.wto

The discussion focused on the role of trade policy in accelerating the growth of e-commerce and the digital economy around the world.

In a speech after the discussion, the director-general stressed: “E-commerce is a transformative force in global trade, supporting growth, development and job creation.”

By reducing the trade costs associated with physical distance, Azevedo said, “e-commerce allows businesses to access the global marketplace, reach a broader network of buyers and participate in international trade. In this way, e-commerce can also be a force for inclusion.”

Broader dissemination of such technologies means that the trade opportunities generated by e-commerce are also available to businesses in developing countries, with some of them making significant headway in recent years, he noted.

“But there is a long, long way to go,” he admitted.

For example, he cited Africa and the Middle-East with a share of less than 2 percent of the world e-commerce market.

“Similarly, we must ensure that e-commerce works as a springboard for smaller companies to compete and reach new markets,” he added.

According to Azevedo, there is a dynamic debate going on at the WTO right now. Many ideas are circulating and many WTO members  —  developed, developing and least-developed  —  are increasingly interested in e-commerce and the digital economy as an issue for further discussion.

Some have been holding workshops on these issues and presenting ideas on how they could be advanced at the WTO.

At the same time, he said, WTO has seen a surge of private sector engagement in the trade body’s work.

“This is very welcome as I think it’s essential that the views of the private sector are heard, including on e-commerce issues. I therefore welcome the ICC’s initiative in bringing together tech company representatives at this important moment in the global trade debate,” he said.

During his visit, the director-general also held meetings with a number of individual tech companies.