The digital economy is a cornerstone of sustainable development

20 septembre 2020

​Written by Xiaozhun Yi, World Trade Organization, Deputy Director General

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Xiaozhun Yi, World Trade Organization, Deputy Director-General

Digital technologies and the digital economy are now central to the way we work, conduct business, perform international trade and engage our world as individuals and communities in the 21st century.

The health crisis has confirmed that this trend will but intensify the role of digitization in economic growth and sustainable development. Although the impact on trade is pervasive, digitization has gained its utmost visibility in our work on electronic commerce at the WTO.

The pandemic has shown that electronic commerce can be an important tool for consumers. Its global reach has stimulated online activity while at the same time casting harsher light on the challenges.

The lessons we are learning underscore the benefit/importance of greater international cooperation to facilitate the cross-border movement of goods and services, narrow the digital divide, and level the playing field for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) – in short, for our efforts to achieve the SDGs in this decade.

We trust that the crisis will strengthen the resolve our UNGIS partners, governments and the myriad of other stakeholders toward greater cooperation and coordination. Co-operation is needed for building good practice that can foster supportive policy frameworks.

WTO, in collaboration with its partners, can offer a path toward greater predictability, interoperability and trust — and, of course, lower costs for businesses and consumers. Discussions at the WTO have enabled governments to better understand the issues at stake in electronic commerce, as well as for the Information Society, writ large.

The WTO works toward solutions in partnership, for example, with UNCTAD's eTrade4All initiative, as well as its own Aid4Trade mechanism. We conduct Dialogues with the private sector, as well as consumer associations. We collaborate with other of the UNGIS partners on seminars and workshops on topics ranging from E-Health to FinTech.

What are some of the observations we can draw from our experience?

We can envision new and practical e-commerce solutions that could help promote economic recovery and job creation. It is also clear that global communications networks have demonstrated their role in the delivery of essential services and outreach to less connected communities.

WTO and its partners have a collective role to play in improving access to communications networks and services. Even more importantly, we need to assist developing countries and LDCs to reduce the digital divide and, thereby, promote economies that can fulfil the SDGs.

The consequences of the pandemic may last for a long time, and the digital economy will need to continue to adapt to the new environment. We need to explore better policies and collaborate on rules of the road for interoperability of legal frameworks and to generate a smoother ride for consumers and businesses who will increasingly engage online.

 It is essential for all that progress is made on digital economy issues fundamental to the 21st century. At the same time, we must maintain processes that are open to all, to achieve solutions that are inclusive and of benefit to all, especially the most disadvantaged among us.


The United Nations Group on the Information Society (UNGIS) has initiated this Dialogue on the Role of Digitalization in the Decade of Action to raise awareness of both the importance of digitalization in achieving the SDGs and of the unique opportunity that UNGIS presents for more effective collaboration in this area within the UN System.