Pacific e-commerce initiative gains ‘new significance’ in light of COVID-19: Forum Deputy to regional workshop

Stepping up on e-commerce and towards a regional strategy will help post COVID-19 economic recovery for the Blue Pacific.

OPENING STATEMENT
PIFS DEPUTY SECRETARY GENERAL, Dr. FILIMON MANONI,
AT THE VIRTUAL PACIFIC REGIONAL WORKSHOP ON E-COMMERCE

3 November 2020

Acting Director General MSG, Mr. George Hoa’au, Senior Pacific Officials, Representatives of CROP agencies, Representatives of regional and international development agencies, Donor partners, Ladies and gentlemen,

I warmly welcome you to this Regional E-commerce workshop for the Pacific. My sincere thanks go to all these partners, notably the European Union, the Enhanced Integrated Framework for LDCs, UNCTAD, the Australian Government and many others who are with us today, for their positive response to the Secretariat’s call to join our Pacific E-commerce Initiative.

I wish to also extend my appreciation to the Melanesian Spearhead Group Secretariat as co-organizers of this Regional Workshop.

E-commerce is significantly transforming businesses, trade, investment and consumer habits across the world. According to UNCTAD’s recent estimates released in April 2020, ecommerce sales in 2018 reached US$25.6 trillion globally, an increase of 8% from US $23.8 trillion in 2017. Of this $25.6 trillion, the top 10 countries, all developed except China, accounted for 75% of global ecommerce or US$19 trillion. Further, in 2018, some 87% of Internet users in the United Kingdom shopped online, compared with only 14% in Thailand and 11% in India. These statistics point to the huge digital divide that exists between developed and developing countries – a divide that must be addressed if the Forum Island Countries are to benefit from E-commerce.
The adoption of ICT in the Pacific region has grown rapidly with around 12% of the population using the internet in 2010 to over 35% in 2017. Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Vanuatu have E-government plans, whereas Kiribati, Nauru, Solomon Islands, tonga and Tuvalu do not have dedicated E-government strategies/plans. Fiji was the first Pacific country to implement Digital Financial Services (DFS) in the region with the launch of Digital Mobile Money and Vodafone’s M-PaiSa in 2010, followed by Tonga, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Kiribati. Data from UNCTAD (2020) and PACLII (2020) reveal that, out of the 14 FICs, only 10 have at least one piece of E-commerce legislation. Republic of Marshall Islands, FSM, Niue, Palau, and Tuvalu have no recent law to regulate E-commerce. The Secretariat remains at Members disposal to support the development or updating of national Ecommerce laws.
Today’s Workshop will present an opportunity to review and discuss the findings of our first-ever Regional E-commerce Assessment report. A testament to the Secretariat’s commitment to deliver on the decisions of the Forum Trade Officials who, mindful of the importance of digital trade for our economic development, in 2018 endorsed the Pacific E-commerce Initiative, consequently the Forum Trade Ministers in February 2020 endorsed E-commerce among the five priorities of the Pacific Aid-for-Trade Strategy 2020-2025.
Leveraging digital trade holds great potential to mitigate some of the structural challenges facing our region, such as small productive capacity and geographical isolation. By facilitating integration into global value chains, E-commerce can reduce the tyranny of distance, boost development of our main sectors, and open exciting export opportunities in new industries. E-commerce has been rapidly gaining importance as one of the major sources of development. In order for E-commerce to grow in the region, governments must tackle crucial constraints in areas such as Trade and ICT Infrastructure, Digital Skills, Regulations, Access to Formal Financial Services and Digital Payment Systems.

The Regional Assessment that be will discussed today not only reveals great strides made towards improving its E-commerce readiness, but also great challenges that still persist in many of the areas which are crucial to leverage our digital trade potential. For instance, the cost of parcel services remains prohibitive for many island businesses, internet penetration and speed is still low, digital payment systems supporting E-commerce are scarce and overly expensive, digital skills of our population are not yet adequate, and the ability of our region to access global digital platforms still presents major constraints.
To conclude, this initiative assumes new significance in the light of COVID-19. E-commerce has already proven its effectiveness in helping businesses to mitigate the impact of the pandemic, and I am sure will prove equally effective to support post-COVID recovery. From this point of view, the Pacific E-commerce Initiative becomes one key tool that our region can use to build back better, by narrowing the digital divide and promoting better inclusivity in our Blue Pacific
I therefore wish you well in your deliberations and look forward to the recommendations which you will put forward from this Workshop.

I thank you.

Check against delivery,
Tuesday 3 November 2020.

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