In today's fast changing political and economic landscape, many countries are grappling with the impact of the digital economy and the opportunities it presents for global growth and inclusive development.
A huge gap has opened up between countries and companies that are able to seize these opportunities and those that cannot.
The existing platforms and rules for global trade are highly skewed towards the interests of large corporations, leaving few opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises - accounting for about 80 percent of all businesses - to benefit from the new opportunities.
The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development last week held a panel discussion on the topic ‘Digital Transformation for All: Empowering Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses.’
Members of the panel were UNCTAD Secretary-General Dr. Mukhisa Kituyi, AliBaba group founder and chairman and UNCTAD Special Advisor for Young Entrepreneurs Jack Ma, World Trade Organization Director-General Roberto Azevêdo, International Telecommunications Union Secretary-General Houlin Zhao and Consumers International Director-General Amanda Long.
"E-commerce provides many opportunities for growth in the developing world, but we need to seize those opportunities now," Dr. Kituyi says.
Moderated by award-winning BBC journalist Nancy Kacungira, the discussion covered topics ranging from job creation, e-commerce trade regulations, strategies for making e-commerce more inclusive, increasing digital infrastructure and more.
"I believe globalisation is good but needs to be improved,” Ma says.
“What if, in the next thirty years, we can help support twenty million small businesses to do business across borders?”
“We need inclusive globalisation," Ma adds.
They also highlighted some of the on-the-ground issues faced by countries attempting to enable an environment for e-commerce development.
"We have two challenges at WTO on e-commerce,” Azevêdo says.
“One is defining what e-commerce means for everyone and two is inclusivity in trade for small and medium enterprises.”
During the two-hour panel, the speakers suggested new ideas for leveraging e-commerce technologies and e-commerce solutions for sustainable development.
"We have the B20, but we need the B200, to create rules and laws to support the small guys, not control them," says Ma, referring to the group creating private sector policy recommendations for the G20.
"Over the past 20 years, we have witnessed the mistakes of celebrating opportunity without facing challenges. The phenomenal rise of e-commerce must be saved from a similar fate," says Dr. Kituyi.