Building E-Commerce to its Maximum Potential Requires More Trust in the Markets

E-commerce offers a better source of growth than manufacturing given that trade growth for physical goods is sluggish at best.

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The Internet—and e-commerce in particular—offer new opportunities for developing countries to grow, but maximizing the potential of this opportunity requires more trust in these markets, for example, by protecting consumer rights and preventing cybercrime, a senior United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) official said.

E-markets, which are growing rapidly—from $16 trillion in 2013 to $22 trillion in 2015—holds opportunities to generate jobs and incomes in developing countries, connecting both individuals and markets, even in remote locations. Analysts say e-commerce also offers a more stable market than, say, commodities and a better source of growth than manufacturing given that trade growth for physical goods is sluggish at best.

But concerns have been raised about the numbers of people who still do not access this opportunity. More than half of the world's population still has no access to the Internet, and in Africa, that share is about 75 percent.

"We are concerned about the 4 billion people in the developing world who are still not connecting to this enormous and growing global market," the UNCTAD Deputy Secretary General Joakim Reiter said. "Clearly, the lack of infrastructure and access will need to be corrected."

"Looking to the future, however, consumers will need coordinated international protection from both cybercrime and market power so that they feel safe to buy online," he added, ahead of a meeting in Geneva on Internet governance.

Organized by the Global Commission on Internet Governance—and with support from the Canadian government—the meeting discussed One Internet, the final report and recommendations of the Global Commission on Internet Governance, released in June 2016 at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) ministerial meeting on the digital economy in Cancun, Mexico.

In July, UNCTAD launched the e-Trade for All initiative in Nairobi, bringing together 15 international organizations and 22 private-sector actors, easing developing country access to cutting-edge technical assistance and giving donors more options for funding.

In October, delegates from the consumer protection agencies of more than 70 countries welcomed the first ever meeting of UNCTAD's Intergovernmental Group of Experts (IGE) on consumer protection law and policy. The meeting looked at the ways in which countries can coordinate to protect the rights of consumers in a digital era and launched the revised U.N. Guidelines on Consumer Protection.