unctad.org | Bhutan Rapid eTrade Readiness Assessment
Bhutan Rapid eTrade Readiness Assessment
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Bhutan is a latecomer to the ICT space. The country is therefore well positioned to reap the advantages of a late starter in the technology space by not having any legacy systems, but having reliable access to electricity, access to relatively more cost effective technologies and opportunities for adoption of new (and open) standards.

In addition, Bhutan is characterized by a unique environment for development of an ICT-based society by way of a stable and vibrant government, a small population, widespread knowledge of English, good telecommunications network in many of the urban areas and the Government’s commitment to adopting ICT as a development tool.

In the past decade, the ICT sector in Bhutan has experience rapid development. Also, various media are used to access the Internet with rapid adoption of mobile phones, in cities as well as remote districts. With its dispersed population scattered in a country marked by geographic challenges, ICT is seen as a powerful tool in assisting the already existing mechanisms to disseminate information and bring about efficiency, transparency and accountability in delivering services.

The revolution in ICTs has profound implications for economic and social development. It has pervaded every aspect of life and the dissemination, propagation and accessibility of these technologies are integral to a country’s development strategy.

The country’s leaders are keeping a careful eye on the outside world as Bhutan opens up, to avoid the potential unwanted effects of technology on society and the country’s unique gross national happiness concept.

The analysis of the current ICT capabilities landscape in Bhutan, coupled with feedback from industry and government institutions have shown that key e-commerce barriers could be broken down in four different areas:

  • Weak domestic demand for ICT services, and a high reliance on public sector ICT projects. Although internationalization and export of ICT products and services represent an important pillar to create a vibrant ICT industry, they cannot fully supplant domestic demand, especially with Bhutan’s underdeveloped ICT industry.

  • Lack of clarity and complementarity among the numerous governmentled initiatives, especially in the absence of a proper e-commerce strategy and e-commerce law. Master plans, road maps and programmes seem to co-exist with insufficient coherence or complementarity. Several initiatives by individual ministries cannot bear fruit as they become rapidly limited by absence of payment facilities.

  • Lack of innovation and related financing solutions. There is a lack of ICT innovation taking place in both the public and private sectors, as well as in academic institutions. If Bhutan hopes to develop more highvalue ICT products and services, a greater effort is required in reviewing the existing infrastructure, policies and ensuring that conducive environment is put in place to foster innovation and entrepreneurship.

  • Skills gap and mismatch in the ICT talent pool. Although Bhutan has an established ICT education system, misalignment in ICT skills and lack of industry-relevant competencies are prevalent, resulting in excessive foreign outsourcing and the absence of opportunities for the roughly 300 new ICT graduates added to the market every year.

Background Documents

Summary of the main findings and recommendations (UNCTAD/DTL/STICT/2017/11(Summary))
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