G20 Makes the Right Calls on “Harnessing Digitalisation”

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The July 7-8, 2017 G20 Leaders’ Declaration includes good language on harnessing digitalization.  SIIA hopes that the ideas in this and other sections of the Declaration will contribute to “Shaping an interconnected world.”   Supporting the free flow of information while respecting applicable legal frameworks for privacy, data protection, and intellectual property rights is the correct approach. 

The leaders said that the G20 Roadmap for Digitalisation, which can be found here (see Annex paper 1), will guide future work.  The roadmap contains 11 policy areas where the G20 would like to see action.

The G20 wants to improve world-wide access to digital technologies, which means more people need to have access to the Internet.  So, the leaders encourage G20 countries to develop digital strategies that support the ITU’s Global Connect 2020 Agenda goals.  The optimal way to do so is for countries to have a regulatory environment that allows consumers and businesses to harness the best of what technology has to offer.  Tala’s Zack Marks pointed out at an SIIA-organized workshop in Geneva for WTO E-commerce representatives that the fact that Tala is able to transfer data in and out of Kenya to use affordable cloud computing solutions is what allows it to offer small loans over mobile phones in that country. Interoperability is key in this regard.  This SIIA resource paper provides information on such possibilities for policymakers, especially in developing countries.

The Global Internet Connectivity Alliance (the Secretariat is hosted by the World Bank in Singapore) is another worthy initiative.  There is a demand for learning what encourages Internet connectivity – sharing best practices in this regard is worthwhile.

Adapting policy for an increasingly digital and information and knowledge driven economy is natural for advanced G20 economies.  There is a huge demand for data scientists in the United States and elsewhere.  IBM, for instance, predicts that demand for data professionals in the United States will increase by 28% in 2020.  This is why SIIA strongly supports training afforded by proven successful programs such as the Carl T. Perkins Career Technical Education Act.

SIIA supports fostering competition in the digital economy.  Our view is that competition analysis should be informed by experience, particularly for consumers, in G20 economies.

It is critical to foster the use of advanced digital technologies among Medium to Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (MSMEs).  Indeed, these companies are some of the most important beneficiaries of open markets.  That is one reason SIIA is so strongly supportive of a modernized North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that would promote digitally-enabled trade in both goods and services.

The continued development of the Internet of Things (IOT) is critical.  SIIA released this White Paper on considerations for policymakers as they develop IOT policy.  Perhaps the most significant one is not to adopt an overarching policy or legal framework.  Regulation should focus on empirically grounded potential risk and be used sparingly.

There should indeed be an environment where all people can adapt to and excel in the digital economy and society.  Besides the Carl T. Perkins Act mentioned earlier in this blog, SIIA and its member companies support government/industry collaboration on making digital products and services available to people with disabilities.  We encourage common standards development such as the Web Accessibility Initiative (WCAG 2.0) that allow companies to build in disability components at the design stage that, in this case, makes websites more accessible to visually and/or hearing impaired individuals.

Strengthening trust, including on privacy, in the digital economy is absolutely essential to its future growth.  This means that countries should have privacy systems appropriate for their legal traditions and preferences.  But we also strongly support the G20’s recognition on “the importance of promoting interoperability between privacy frameworks of different countries.”  SIIA showcased the feasibility and desirability of such interoperability frameworks at another WTO workshop for Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) Negotiators.  See also this cross-border data flow interoperability options paper for policymakers to consider.    

The promotion of consumer protection online is another critically important component in unleashing additional e-commerce.  Voluntary stakeholder agreements are a useful element in promoting consumer protection and there is scope for additional agreements.

SIIA encourages further work on measuring the digital economy.  We look forward to reviewing the “G20 Action Plan to Improve Measurement of the Digital Economy in Macroeconomic Statistics.”  This will be delivered by the OECD and the IMF (working with other organizations as well) later this year.

Finally, SIIA strongly supports bridging the digital gender divide.  Certainly, one of the ways to do that is to make digital financial services more accessible and appropriate for women.  Those services need to be available in the first place, which again reinforces the point that cross-border data flows are essential so as to be able to deliver the benefits of cloud-based computing services.

So, the G20 is on the right path to promoting digital economy potential.  SIIA looks forward to working with G20 governments, especially next year’s host, Argentina, to build on the success of this year’s meeting. 

Carl Carl Schonander is Senior Vice President for Global Public Policy.