On Thursday, June 18th, WITA hosted a webinar with panelists who discussed why digital tools are more essential than ever in the midst of a global pandemic and enforced distancing across the world. Additionally, they discussed how policy makers are responding to this unprecedented change in the way we work, communicate and engage, and if trade policy up to the task.
WITA Webinar Featuring:
Jake Colvin, Executive Director, Global Innovation Forum and Vice President, National Foreign Trade Council.
Javier Lopez Gonzalez, Senior Trade Policy Analyst, the (OECD) Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Ambassador Frances Lisson, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the World Trade Organization.
Moderator: Wendy Cutler, Vice President, and Managing Director, Washington D.C. office of the Asia Society Policy Institute
The webinar began with Moderator Wendy Cutler summarizing the trend of increasing use of digital tools within the trade community due to the COVID-19 crisis, including WTO e-commerce law negotiations and digital service taxes. Wendy then asked Jake Colvin about how the pandemic has accelerated the use of digital technologies by small businesses, and he noted the more frequent use of social media platforms to sell products and an overall reliance on e-commerce ecosystems to run product based businesses.
Javier Lopez Gonzalez elaborated on this trend in the context of the OECD, which has been employing google mobility data to track changes. According to their findings, there has been a 56% reduction in workplace mobility and 20-30% increase in connectivity and internet traffic. He also suggested that trade can help to reduce the cost of accessing digital networks globally, and that barriers to digital services have increased along with the recent demand.
Wendy and Ambassador Lisson proceeded to dive into the ongoing WTO e-commerce negotiations that currently include 84 member states working on a joint statement. They have two plenary sessions upcoming in July, and the Ambassador emphasized the need to create a consolidated text as quickly as possible to address the obvious issues of data and privacy concerns.
In the following Q&A session led by WITA Executive Director Ken Levinson, the panelists were asked about how negotiations are taking place digitally, how to avoid a patchwork of multiple plurilateral agreements regarding e-commerce laws, and methodology for shipment and customs barriers to digitally sold services and products.