Group of 20 (G20) Digital Economy Working Group

Statement by Rebeca Grynspan, Secretary-General of UNCTAD

Group of 20 (G20) Digital Economy Working Group

15 March 2022

"Kick-off" meeting

It is a great pleasure to address this Kick-Off Meeting of the G20 Digital Economy Working Group.

For UNCTAD it is an honour to serve as knowledge partner to this Working Group on the subject of cross-border Data Flows.

We believe this issue will define how we deal with human development in the twenty-first century.

Over the past decade, as we have digitalized our economies and personal lives, we have seen an astonishing surge in global data traffic, especially during the COVID-nineteen pandemic.

Global Internet bandwidth rose by 35% in 2020, the largest one-year increase since 2013. And yet we are still only in the early days of the data-driven digital economy.

With the roll-out of 5G wireless technology, data flows will expand much further. Monthly global data traffic is expected to surge from 230 exabytes in 2020 to 780 exabytes in 2026. So it will have tripled in only six years.

Much depends on what we do with this data.

If we harness it well, data can power up our development, smarten our cities, help us fight pandemics and climate change.

But if we fail to create adequate governance systems, if we fail to help developing countries create and capture value from data, then this will result in a world where the many consume the data, but only the few can use it.

Indeed, that is largely what is happening now. According to our Digital Economy Report, only two countries – the US and China – account for half of the world’s hyperscale data centres, 70% of the artificial intelligence talent and 90% of the market capitalization of the largest digital platforms.

The multilateral system can do much to reverse this situation and help developing countries make better use of their own data resources.

However, the international debate on digital governance is at an impasse, reflecting diverging views and positions.

Current regulatory frameworks tend to be either too narrow in scope or too limited geographically, with the EU, the US and China – the world’s three largest economies – each dealing differently with the issue, with varying emphasis on the role of the state, the market and the citizenship.

A new and balanced global approach to data governance is needed.

Against this background, the work of the G20, and of this Digital Economy Working Group, could not be more important or timely.

We must create data governance frameworks that generate inclusive and sustainable development outcomes. And for that, we need to build them together.

So our congratulations to Indonesia for convening this important working group. UNCTAD is committed to supporting this process. We look forward to working closely with you this year.