On behalf of the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum, I extend to you all our warm Pacific greetings. I am particularly delighted to welcome our senior Officials and participants from the Forum Island Countries to this important regional workshop on E-Commerce, an area in which we have huge improvements to make.
I wish to acknowledge with appreciation the presence of our collaborating partners for this Workshop: the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). A special welcome to you Mr Tim Yeend for taking time from your busy schedule as Chief Adviser to the WTO in this crucial WTO Ministerial year, to come and join us, a testimony to the commitment of the WTO to this region. I also wish to warmly welcome Ms Cecile Barayre, representative of UNCTAD to the region. May I acknowledge the presence of resource persons and experts from regional organisations – University of the South Pacific, Oceania Customs Organisation, South Pacific Tourism Organisation, and other international organizations, namely, UNESCAP, ADB, International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and the World Bank. A special welcome to the representative from e-bay.
E-commerce is no doubt significantly transforming global trade and the world economy. The Pacific is no longer an isolated region to the growing influence of e-commerce in global trade of both goods and services, including the participation of big and small businesses and individuals. The governments around the world are increasingly aware of the potential benefits of e-commerce, and therefore seek to develop policies, legislations and regulations in order to harness the growth and potential benefits of e-commerce to take full advantage of what e-commerce could offer.
The use of e-commerce is enhanced by improvements in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) that generates a digital economy, with many positive benefits, but also with challenges for many developing countries, including the Pacific Islands. Our challenges of smallness and isolation associated with the high trade costs can be overcome by wise investments in ICT and E-Commerce. If properly nurtured, e-commerce can enhance trade and development benefits by gaining access to the global market for goods and services. Domestically it can be a catalyst for stimulating and linking rural areas and outer islands with urban commercial opportunities.
Investments in ICT have been identified as a regional priority by the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders in 2015, through the submissions received under the Framework for Pacific Regionalism process, but also through the decisions of various regional Ministerial meetings. At their meeting in 2016, Forum Leaders welcomed the exponential growth in internet connectivity in the region and access to world markets and global knowledge it brings. Leaders agreed that Forum members should work together to establish a Computer Emergency Response Team capacity for the region to combat cyber threats and cybercrime. A number of countries are progressing this work. To strengthen regional capacity in cybersecurity, USP is introducing a Postgraduate Diploma in cybersecurity which will be offered from Semester 2, 2017. This programme will provide managers and practitioners, the skills they need to protect their ICT infrastructure and investments.
We gather today with two main objectives: (i) First, to update the region on the discussion on E-Commerce in the WTO based on the different proposals on the table that have been submitted by the WTO Members. This is part of the preparation for the eleventh WTO Ministerial Conference (MC11) to be held in Buenos Aires, Argentina in December 2017; and (ii) Second, to identify appropriate policies and laws that will promote the development of trans-border E-commerce in goods and service throughout the region, including discussion on assistance that may be required by Pacific island countries.
The Workshop programme allows for the Forum Island Countries (FICs) to also make presentations on the status of development of E-commerce at the domestic level. You will be sharing your country experiences on the following key areas:
ICT/e-Commerce Strategy, and policy,
the ICT infrastructure access and affordability,
legal framework, e-transactions,
cybercrimes, data protection and protection of consumers online, and
payment options for transactions.
The country experiences that will be shared will surely highlight the challenges in the region, but I encourage you to be solutions oriented – let’s learn from our experiences, and discuss the improvements to guide our future work on E-commerce at the regional and at the national level.
Businesses and individuals are already engaging in significant E-commerce transactions, including the use of mobile telephony for Business to Business (B2B), Business to Consumers (B2C), and Consumers to Consumers (C2C) categories. These transactions need legal frameworks to protect the sellers and buyers.
We need to better understand the role and contribution of E-commerce towards the services sectors, including tourism which is so important to the Pacific region. The small, and medium enterprises (SMEs) hotel are already conducting e-marketing to promote their accommodation and to allow tourists to book online. E-commerce is shortening the supply and the value chains. Educational services provided through distance education is another important sector and area of growth for our region. We will discuss these issues over the next three days.
While there are opportunities, and benefits to be reaped, governments need to create the enabling environment for E-commerce to thrive without creating liabilities. Given the cross-cutting nature of E-commerce there is a need for a holistic approach to mainstream E-commerce into the national trade policies and development strategies. This requires a multi-agency approach and a coordinating mechanism at the national level to align sectoral policies towards E-commerce policies and objectives.
The Forum Islands Countries are at different levels of development on E-commerce. Some Pacific countries have yet to develop E-commerce policy/strategies and legislations, so e-commerce activities could be operating without being anchored to legislations, while others may need to address ICT infrastructure, transport and logistics services. As the region embarks on executing the various trade agreement, investments in E-Commerce tools should become a priority. In the next three days, we need to be discuss and identify our priorities, and share with the development partners for potential technical and capacity building assistances.
This WTO/UNCTAD/PIFS Regional Workshop on E-commerce would enable participants to hear from the speakers representing different international organisations, the financial institutions, and those participating in E-commerce to share with us their lessons and experiences that the Forum Island Countries can learn from. In this regard, I wish to acknowledge the presence of representatives from Australia and New Zealand who will be sharing their national experiences as well.
I would like to sincerely thank both the WTO and UNCTAD for their financial support towards this Workshop. The PIFS and the WTO enjoy a long standing co-operation to build the capacity of the Pacific region on WTO issues. This Workshop is one of three Workshops that are being held in the region in 2017. In addition, the WTO also supports internships at the PIFS Geneva Office and this year we are fortunate that three interns will benefit from this programme.
I wish you all the best in your deliberation in the next three days and look forward to working with you in addressing the issues you identify.