UNCTAD


Helani Galpaya was invited as an expert speaker to the Intergovernmental Group of Experts (IGE) on e-Commerce and Digital  Economy meeting which took place during UNCTAD’s eCommerce week. Helani’s presentation focused on the state of connectivity, use of mobile payment and level of eCommerce use in the Global South, as revealed by the AfterAccess surveys LIRNEasia, RIA and DIRSI have just completed. She was also an invited speaker at the first IGE in 2017.
Helani Galpaya 20 April, 2018 Geneva Intergovernmental Group of Experts on the Digital Economy UNCTAD
UNCTAD (UN Commission on Trade and Development) is increasingly creating interesting spaces for discussing the digital economy. Their first meeting of the Intergovernmental Group of Experts was convened 4-6 October 2017 in Geneva. Our CEO Helani Galpaya was invited to speak on the specific challenges faced by developing countries in attempting to measure eCommerce activities.  The meeting coincided with the 2017 Information Economy Report, the annual publication by UNCTAD, which this year had the theme of “Digitisation, Trade and Development”. Helani’s talk also mentioned the upcoming nationally representative surveys in 17 global south countries (including 6 in Asia) as being a good source of data on ICT use by households and individuals as well as (in Africa) informal enterprises.
It seems everyone is talking about digital platforms and digital labor.  This is not surprising, given the amount of news Uber alone is creating in many countries, including the ones LIRNEasia works in.  Everyone is worried about the impacts on labor and working conditions, while some are optimistic about the welfare effects created, especially for consumers who now have more choice and often cheaper rides. Last year we completed the Sri Lanka part of a project looking at a specific type of platform-enabled economic activity that completes a transition with the buyer and seller never meeting – that of on online freelancing and microwork.  We are now looking at the same phenomena in India, and will soon start the same research in Myanmar.
Below is what we said were among critical policy issues in cloud computing: The storage of data in multiple, usually foreign, jurisdictions raises a different set of regulatory issues including data protection and police investigatory powers. The jurisdictional issues are anchored on the location of the firm and the location of the data. In the former instance, wherever the data may be located, the firm may be ordered to ensure that data are subject to the laws applicable to the jurisdiction within which the firm is located. As a corollary, the firm may be required to ensure that the data are located ins jurisdictions where the laws are consistent with those of its home jurisdiction. This was not too difficult a problem in the past because the firms that stored or processed data in foreign locations were large entities with capability to enforce the applicable rules through contracts and otherwise.
I was invited to conduct a discussion at the Cabinet Office in Brasilia with senior government officials driving the Brazilian Broadband Policy that will shortly be announced. Representatives of the relevant ministries, ANATEL the regulatory agency, the public telecom operator and a local think tank participated in what proved to be a lively discussion. Given the policy was almost fully formulated, I decided to focus on performance indicators, a subject I was working on for both UNCTAD and one which had preoccupied me since the time I was a regulator. It is also a subject that LIRNEasia has developed considerable expertise in. My guess was correct.
At the “multi-year expert meeting” on services, development and trade: the regulatory and institutional dimension, organized by UNCTAD in Geneva, there was rich discussion on the increasing importance of regulation in an environment in which services trade is assuming greater importance. As attention shifts to services trade (for example, the most important element of the proposed Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement between India and Sri Lanka, is the services chapter), there is of necessity a need to start looking at regulatory restrictions on services trade. Tariffs do not apply to services, so the only barriers are opaque, arbitrary and discriminatory regulatory provisions. This has been well recognized in telecom, with the reference paper on regulation being one of the key contributions to liberalization made by the GATS. The issue being raised at the UNCTAD meeting was whether there was value in exploring the regulatory aspects of trade in other infrastructure services.