Making a case for a national e-commerce policy

BY Mazie-Grace Smith

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

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The significance of economic activities in the digital space has grown substantially globally. Digital content now crosses borders in vast volumes. The digital economy is growing about 32 per cent faster than the wider economy and creating jobs three times more quickly. Digitisation is opening new sectors, promoting new markets, boosting innovation, and generating the productivity gains needed to lift living standards in countries.

Nevertheless, despite this global trend, the growth in the digitalisation of products has not been evenly distributed, and this can have severe implications for the future trade competitiveness of small countries like Jamaica. The increasing digitalisation of the global manufacturing industry is fast raising the trade competitiveness of advanced economies. Three-dimensional (3D) printing, big data analytics, artificial intelligence, remote additive manufacturing will all make it difficult for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and other 'big' firms in Jamaica to preserve their trade competitiveness in this fast-digitalising world.

In order for our local players not to be left behind and for them to fully benefit from the opportunities presented by the digital age, there is an urgent need for a holistic national e-commerce policy.

So what are some of the elements such a policy should entail?

The national e-commerce policy should not only provide the regulatory, administrative and legal mechanisms to promote Jamaica's e-commerce sector, but it must also address the challenges and gaps which exist. The national policy must address the issue of broadband connectivity and Internet penetration to create the digital infrastructure needed. It must provide a strategy to leverage data, which is a critical element in achieving growth in this digital age. Data considered the 'new oil' and digital capital must be protected and processed to Jamaica's advantage.

The policy must also address the needs of our MSMEs to compete globally. Many MSMEs face challenges in tapping into the potential of e-commerce. The policy should, therefore, provide strategies to address the lack of technical and business skills in setting up online businesses as well as how to navigate the complex performance standards requirements on international e-commerce platforms. It must also provide marketing strategies to attract customers. The policy must get our MSMEs e-commerce ready!

The e-commerce policy must provide institutional support through upgrading qualifications and capacities as well as reskilling segments of the economy that have limited access to the digital ecosystems. According to United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, in 2020, over one-third of the basic skills needed in most jobs will consist of those that are not yet considered crucial for today's work.

A strategy to promote research and development in digital innovation is also critical to the national e-commerce policy's success. This is where Jamaica's key bilateral partners can play a role. The current negotiations of the Post-Cotonou Agreement between the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States (of which Jamaica is a member) and the European Union provides an opportunity for Jamaica to push for technical assistance and capacity building in the area of digital cooperation. Bilateral partnerships must be contemporaneous and fit for purpose.

Most importantly, in designing the policy, it will be imperative to preserve policy and regulatory space in the international rule-making platforms like the World Trade Organization.

Technology is advancing at a rapid rate and Jamaica must keep apace. Without a strategic and targeted national e-commerce policy, Jamaica does not stand to gain much from the digital economy.

Millennial onboard with #NewJamaica

 

Mazie-Grace Smith is a trade policy specialist with over a decade experience in providing advice on emerging issues in the multilateral trade system. Send comments to the Observer or maziegrace.smith@gmail.com.


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