Supporting countries to measure the digital economy for development

The growing digital economy has increased the need for new data and measurement tools to strengthen evidence-based policy.

Digitally delivered services – those provided remotely using information and communication technology (ICT) – have helped to contain the COVID-19 pandemic in the services industry.

New UNCTAD statistics show that exports of these services will grow from about $3.3 trillion in 2019 to $3.8 trillion in 2021. This growth helped offset a sharp decline in exports of other services during this period. As a result, trade in general services fell by 3.5%, much less than it would have otherwise.

While the pandemic has seen the rise of e-commerce and the digital economy, it has also exposed the digital and data divide.

“Some countries have great advantages in the new world of digital commerce while others still face major challenges,” said Shamika N. Sirimanne, UNCTAD’s director of technology and logistics.

“Supporting all countries to develop the statistics needed to monitor and manage their performance in the global digital economy is essential to level the playing field,” Ms Sirimanne added.

UNCTAD’s work on measuring e-commerce and the digital economy aims to build the capacity of countries to produce official statistics in this area to inform policy making. The lack of such knowledge is an important gap in the toolkit that governments need to design and implement ICT development policies.

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To get the full picture

While statistics on digital export services provide valuable insights into digital marketing, they are only a partial view. The effects of digital transformation extend beyond commerce, affecting businesses, individuals and governments around the world.

UNCTAD has shown the need for a wide range of additional statistics – such as the use of business ICT, the adoption of e-commerce and the value of e-commerce transactions – to obtain a better understanding of the digital economy and how it affects work, production and productivity. economic development in different countries.

The main features described in the UNCTAD Manual for the Production of Statistics in the Digital Economy available in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese are an important reference. However, it is important to continue efforts to define and measure other aspects of the digital economy.

Improving global cooperation

The UNCTAD dedicated working group meeting held on 28 and 29 November explored ways to build on existing data sources to measure commerce and the digital economy. The discussion focused on improving the availability of indicators and statistics to speed up the digital transformation.

Topics discussed include measuring the value of e-commerce, using big data sources and web scraping to find information about the digital economy, using statistics to explore the different experiences of men and women in the digital economy, and how to develop capacity for development. countries in these areas.

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Internationally comparable and timely statistics, as well as international analysis, can strengthen the basis for designing and implementing digital economic policies.

This group includes developed and developing countries with different statistical systems and infrastructure. It encourages collaboration to improve the availability, quality, comparability, use and relevance of statistics on e-commerce and the digital economy, to support evidence-based policy making, especially in developing countries.

Participants suggested the creation of a working group to develop statistical guidelines for measuring the value of e-commerce transactions. These guidelines will provide a valuable basis for the compilation of important statistics in understanding the role of e-commerce in economic activity, employment, trade and development.

Increasing share of global digital services exports

While the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly disrupted trade in other services such as transport and travel, services delivered digitally remained strong, rising as a share of services exports.

These services include telecommunications, computer and information services, financial and insurance services and various business services such as strategic and management consulting.

Globally, their share increased from 52% in 2019 to 64% in 2020, increasing the previous pace. This increase is more stable in 2021 at 63%.

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Regions fared differently

The share of digital services in outsourced services has increased in all regions during the pandemic.

Digital services will account for, respectively, 80% and 70% of services exports in North America and Europe by 2021.

Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean had the largest increase in the share of services exported between 2019 and 2020.

In Oceania, the share increased from 24% in 2019 to 42% in 2021.

By comparison, regions with low levels of existing digital literacy – including digital connectivity and digital skills – entered the pandemic with low levels of digitally delivered trade, and exports of digital services declined in 2020 before rebounding in 2021.

In Africa, digitally distributed commerce has changed dramatically during the pandemic. While North African countries saw the strongest growth in any region, their Sub-Saharan counterparts experienced a sharp decline from 2019 to 2020.

The least developed countries (LDCs), with the lowest levels of availability, quality and affordability of digital technologies and digital skills, were on a markedly different path, not seeing a return to the trade in digital services at that time.

LDCs are in dire need of international support to take the necessary steps to take advantage of digital trade opportunities, including resilience in times of disasters.


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