The South Centre

Address: Chem. de Balexert 7-9, 1219 Genève, Switzerland

Website: https://southcentre.int

Established in 1995, the South Centre is an intergovernmental policy research think tank composed of and accountable to developing country member states. It conducts research on key policy development issues and supports developing countries to effectively participate in international negotiating processes that are relevant to the achievement of the sustainable development goals (SDGs). The South Centre promotes the unity of the Global South in such processes while recognising the diversity of national interests and priorities.

The South Centre works on a wide range of issues relevant to countries in the Global South and the global community in general,  such as sustainable development, climate change, South-South co-operation, innovation and intellectual property,  access to medicines, health, trade, investment agreements, international tax co-operation, human rights, and gender.

Within the limits of its capacity and mandate, the South Centre also responds to requests for policy advice and for technical and other support from its members and other developing countries.

The South Centre has observer status in a number of international organisations.

Digital Activities

Innovation and development are one of the issue areas that the South Centre works on. As part of its efforts within this domain, it focuses on information technologies. Moreover, digital issues are also tackled in the domain of, inter alia, taxation and the digital economy, data governance, e-commerce, and the 4th industrial revolution.

The South Centre has produced deliverables/research outputs in the following areas: digital and financial inclusion, digital economy, digital taxation, digital industrialisation, and digital trade, among others.

Digital policy issues

Sustainable development 

The South Centre has delved into the interplay between digital technologies and development on several occasions through its research outputs. In 2006, it published an analytical note titled ‘Internet Governance for Development’. The document tackled the interplay between development and technology arguing that affordable access to the Internet allows for better education opportunities, greater access to information, improved private and public services, and stronger cultural diversity. More specifically, the document provided recommendations on issues such as openness (e.g. leaving the policy space open for developing countries), diversity (e.g. multilingualism), and security (e.g. funding of Computer Security Incident Response Teams (CSIRTs) in order to maximise the outcomes of discussions for developing countries at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF)).

A year later, the South Centre published the research paper ‘Towards a Digital Agenda for Developing Countries’, in which it looked into the conditions, rights, and freedoms necessary for developing countries to benefit from digital and Internet resources. By bringing together several different strands of ongoing discussions and analyses at the national and international levels, it aims to provide a direction for further research and policy analysis by laying the groundwork and creating awareness of the relevance and scope of digital and Internet content for policymakers in developing countries.

In 2020, the South Centre has continued to research the impact of digital technologies in the context of development. Its research paper ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution in Developing Nations: Challenges and Roadmap’ tackles trends in emerging technologies such as big data, robotics, and Internet of things (IoT), and identifies challenges, namely, the lack of infrastructure, a trained and skilled workforce, scalability, and funding faced by developing countries. It then goes on to propose a strategic framework for responding to the 4th industrial revolution, which focuses on capacity building, technology incubations, scientific development, and policy-making.

In light of the ongoing global health pandemic, the South Centre as part of its publication series ‘SouthViews’, shared perspectives of developing countries on digital health. The article uses the example of the adoption of digital technologies in healthcare in Pakistan, and how the COVID-19 crisis advanced further the development of digital health.

E-commerce and trade 

The digital economy is another issue researched by the South Centre in the context of development. For instance, in 2017 it published an analytical note ‘The WTO’s Discussions on Electronic Commerce’, in which it explored the stance of developing countries (i.e. readiness in terms of infrastructure, upskilling, etc.) to engage in cross-border e-commerce. Among other things, it highlighted challenges such as low information technology (IT) adoption, and the lack of electricity supply that limit the uptake of e-commerce activities in Africa for instance. In another analytical note published that same year, it tackled the impact of the digital economy on ‘Micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs)’, and looked into the type of e-commerce rules that could best serve the interests of MSMEs.

More recently, it addressed issues pertaining to regulation of the digital economy in developing countries, namely, the future of work, market dynamics, and data and privacy protection.

The South Centre also provides analyses and organised many meetings in early 2020 to discuss issues such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) E-Commerce Moratorium and the Joint Statement Initiative (JSI) plurilateral discussions on e-commerce.

In addition to publications, the South Centre organises events within this field such as a workshop on ‘E-commerce and Domestic Regulation’, a technical session on ‘South-South Digital Cooperation to Boost Trade Competitiveness’, and a high-level event on ‘South-South Digital Cooperation for Industrialization’.

The South Centre is also monitoring developments and participating in discussions in the field and across international organisations in Geneva, including the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) eTrade for All initiative.

Taxation 

A South Centre policy brief sheds light on some of the implications for developing countries concerning the new international taxation global governance structure and the ongoing corporate tax reform process under the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Inclusive Framework on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) Project umbrella in the context of the digitalisation of the economy.  Policy responses undertaken are briefly summarised in a ‘SouthViews’ article and elaborated in detail in a research paper by the South Centre Tax Initiative (SCTI). The SCTI also submitted its comments on the OECD Secretariat’s Proposal for a “Unified Approach” under Pillar One and on the session paper relating to tax consequences of the digitalised economy and– issues of relevance for developing countries to be discussed at the 20th Session of the UN Committee of Experts on International Cooperation on Tax Matters.

Intellectual property rights 

Intellectual property (IP) issues such as digital rights management and international legal frameworks for copyright in the digital age in the context of digital transformation have also been subject to South Centre research.

In June 2019, it published a policy brief on ‘Intellectual Property and Electronic Commerce: Proposals in the WTO and Policy Implications for Developing Countries’, in which it gave an overview of discussions within the WTO on IP and its potential implications for the digital economy.

Artificial intelligence (AI) was also tackled through the lens of IP. In an input on the draft issues paper on IP policy and AI submitted to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the South Centre provides a number of recommendations which, among other things, underscore that particularities of AI and IP policy in developing countries and capacity building, including South-South dynamics that should be tackled in the final draft of the issues paper.

In September 2020, the South Centre also published a research paper entitled ‘Data in legal limbo: Ownership, sovereignty, or a digital public goods regime?’.

Digital Tools

A Public Health Approach to Intellectual Property Rights’: a virtual help desk on the use of Trade-related aspects of Intellectual property Rights (TRIPS) flexibilities for public health purposes A Public Health Approach to Intellectual Property Rights’: a virtual help desk on the use of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) flexibilities for public health purposes https://ipaccessmeds.southcentre.int/ South Centre Tax Initiative: https://taxinitiative.southcentre.int/Social Media: Twitter: @South_Centre ; YouTube: SouthCentre GVA; Flickr: South Centre; LinkedIn The South Centre has a general and specific e-mailing lists.

Future of Meetings

Any reference to online or remote meetings? In light of the COVID-19 global pandemic, the South Centre has increasingly used Zoom and Microsoft Teams for online meetings and webinars. The South Centre organised a webinar on ‘The COVID-19 Pandemic: Intellectual Property Management for Access to Diagnostics, Medicines and Vaccines’ and a series of webinars on COVID-19 and development, which are as follows:

  1. Energy for sustainable development in Africa in the post-COVID world – looking for the ‘New Normal’

Webinar 1: COVID-19 impact actions across Africa. First-hand information from policymakers and leading experts

  1. Energy for sustainable development in Africa in the post-COVID world – looking for the ‘New Normal’

Webinar 2: Sustainable Energy for Africa: transition through growth. How to boost output, improve access and reduce impact on the nature and society? Technologies, scenarios, strategies, sources of finance and business models.

  1. Tax Policy Options For Funding the Post-COVID Recovery in the Global South
  2. Responsible Investment for Development and Human Rights: Assessing Different Mechanisms to Face Possible Investor-State Disputes from COVID-19 Related Measures

The South Centre also organised a webinar titled Reflexiones sobre la Judicialización de la Salud en America Latina’.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Acronym: UNHCR

Established: 1950

Address: Rue de Montbrillant 94, 1201 Genève, Switzerland

Website: https://www.unhcr.org/

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

Established in 1950 after the end of WWII, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is a UN agency mandated to help and protect refugees, internally displaced and stateless people, and to assist in their voluntary repatriation, local integration or resettlement to a third country.

Whereas the majority of its activities take place in the field (given that 90% of its staff is based on the ground) and include, among other things, the provision of protection, shelter, emergency relief, and repatriation, it also works with national political, economic and social actors in order to ensure that refugee policies are enacted and laws are compliant with international frameworks. In addition, the organisation also takes on advocacy activities where it works with governments, non-government actors in order to promote practices and provide assistance to those in need.

As recognition for its work, in 1954, the UNHCR was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Digital activities

The UNHCR’s digital activities centre around its core objective – to aid refugees and displaced persons. The organisation, therefore, has been very active in the area of digital inclusion and digital identity. In this context, the UNHCR, for instance, looks for ways how digital identity can facilitate protection and empowerment of refugees and asylum-seekers. In addition, the Refugee agency has conducted substantial work in the field of privacy and data protection and transition to online learning to ensure the right to education.

Digital policy issues

Digital identities 

To promote the inclusion of refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs), stateless persons and other vulnerable individuals, the UNHCR focuses a part of its work on digital identity. Within this scope, it published in 2018 its “UNHCR Strategy on Digital Identity and Inclusion”. In this document, the UNHCR defines the challenges faced by individuals, in particular, foreigners, migrants, asylum seekers and refugees who lack their legal identity papers. It highlights the advantages brought about by digitalisation and defines three main objectives for achieving the digital inclusion and digital identity: 1) Empower refugees, stateless and forcibly displaced persons to access, among other things, the job market, education and financial services; 2) strengthen states’ capacity to register and document all individuals living on their respective territories and ensure conformity with international standards of data security and privacy; 3) improve service delivery (e.g. delivery of legal and protection) through the use of the Internet and mobile technologies.

From a practical point of view, the Refugee Agency uses Population Registration and Identity Management Ecosystem (PRIMES) which gathers UNHCR’s digital registration, identity management and case management tools into a single internally connected and interoperable ecosystem. The tool makes use of personal information including biographic and biometric data, to provide necessary assistance, protection and services to protection to refugees and other displaced populations.

Online education 

Online learning plays also features in UNHCR’s work. In a recent publication titled ‘Supporting Continued Access to Education during COVID-19’, the UNHCR underscored its vital role in advocating for and ensuring the inclusion of refugees in national response plans to ensure the continuity of learning. The document sheds light on some of the activities that it has undertaken in light of the health crisis, including, the launch of online learning platforms in Jordan as well as related education programmes in Uganda. 

In the broader context of online education, in its ‘Education 2030: A Strategy for Refugee Inclusion’, the UNHCR highlights the increasingly important role played by digital technologies and proposes the strengthening of policies and practices to promote the development of digital and transferable skills through connected and blended learning 

methods. Keeping within the broader approach, in 2016, the UNHCR, together with Arizona State University, initiated the Connected Learning in Crisis Consortium (CLCC). The objective of the initiative is to promote, coordinate and support the provision of quality higher education in contexts of conflict, crisis and displacement through Connected Learning that thanks to the use of information technology combine face-to-face and online learning. 

To pursue its action in the domain of access to education, the Refugee Agency runs several platforms. To illustrate, its online platform ‘UNHCR Opportunities’ allows refugees, IDPs and other displaced persons to find accredited higher education academic or scholarship programmes that have been verified by UNHCR. The ‘Learn and Connect’ portal enables UNHCR staff and partners to access a comprehensive set of learning activities.

Sustainable development 

The UNHCR is firmly committed to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The interplay between digital and development is evident in the Agency’s contributions in the field of digital inclusion. To this end, the UNHCR has published the above-mentioned ‘Strategy on Digital Identity and Inclusion’.

The Agency has also developed Digital Access, Inclusion and Participation programme, to ensure that refugees and other displaced communities have access to digital technology and connectivity, and increasing their participation in Agency’s work. UNHCR’s Innovation Service leads the programme.

In 2018, the UNHCR launched the Global Compact for Refugees, a  framework for more equitable responsibility-sharing, noting that sustainable solutions to refugee situations cannot be realised without international cooperation. Therefore, it sets out four key objectives: to ease the pressures on host countries, enhance refugee self-reliance, expand access to third-country solutions, and support conditions in countries of origin for return in safety and dignity. Moreover, the Agency developed a digital platform for the Global Compact on Refugees, which enables the sharing of experiences and knowledge on the implementation of the Global Compact for Refugees.

The UNHCR has also worked with students and young people to raise awareness on many challenges faced by refugees. For instance, the Agency has launched ‘The MUN Refugee Challenge’ to encourage students worldwide to debate on and shape solutions to numerous refugee crises. 

Privacy and data protection 

The UNHCR has been very vocal in the area of data protection, emphasising that ‘Data protection is part and parcel of refugee protection’. Since 2015, the Refugee agency has its own Data protection policy. The Policy is accompanied by the ‘Guidance on the Protection of Personal Data of Persons of Concern to UNHCR’, published in 2018, with the aim of assisting the UNHCR personnel in the application and interpretation of the above Policy. 

The Refugee agency has recently published a ‘Data Transformation Strategy 2020-2025’ aimed at strengthening its role as a leading authority on data and information related to forcibly displaced and stateless persons.

Commission on Science and Technology for Development

Acronym: CSTD

Established: 1992

Address: Palais des Nations, 1211 Geneva, Switzerland

Website: https://unctad.org/en/Pages/cstd.aspx

The CSTD is a subsidiary body of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). The Commission met for the first time in April 1993 in New York, USA. Since July 1993, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has been hosting the CSTD secretariat, which holds an annual intergovernmental session for the discussion of timely and pertinent issues affecting science, technology, and development. CSTD members are national governments, but debates also involve representatives from academia, the private sector, and civil society. Strong links exist with other UN bodies (including the Commission on the Status of Women, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Regional Commissions, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), United National Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA)). Outcomes of the CSTD include providing the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and ECOSOC with high-level advice on relevant science and technology issues.

Digital activities

The CSTD reviews progress made in the implementation of and follow-up to the WSIS outcomes at the regional and international levels. It also discusses frontier technologies, which are largely linked with digitalisation. Based on reviews and discussions, the CSTD prepares draft resolutions for ECOSOC. These draft resolutions tackle issues ranging from access to the internet, information and communications technologies (ICTs), and frontier technologies to the use of these technologies in achieving sustainable development, particularly under the 2030 Agenda, including mitigating and adapting to climate change. At each of its annual sessions and intersessional panels, the CSTD addresses two priority themes regarding the use of STI including digital technologies, in different areas, for example, sustainable cities and communities; inclusive social and economic development; good health and well-being; opportunities and challenges associated with blockchain technology; capacity development; Industry 4.0 for inclusive development; and access to safe water and sanitation.

Digital policy issues

Artificial intelligence (1)

As part of its work on assessing the impact of technological change on inclusive and sustainable development, the CSTD is also exploring the role of frontier technologies including AI. At its 22nd session, the CSTD pointed out that AI and other frontier technologies offer significant opportunities to accelerate progress in the SDGs, while also posing new challenges (e.g. disrupting labour markets, exacerbating or creating new inequalities, and raising ethical questions). The CSTD focused its 2019–2020 intersessional work on digital frontier technologies, such as AI, big data, and robotics. For 2021, the CSTD chose another digital technology – blockchain for sustainable development – as a priority theme for its work. In 2022, the CSTD deliberated on Industry 4.0 technologies (such as AI, big data, IoT, and robotics) for inclusive development.

Access (2)

During its annual sessions and intersessional panels, as well as in its draft resolutions for ECOSOC, the CSTD tackles aspects related to the digital divide, and outlines the need for further progress in addressing the impediments that developing countries face in accessing new technologies. It often underlines the need for coordinated efforts among all stakeholders to bridge the digital divide in its various dimensions: access to infrastructure, affordability, quality of access, digital skills, gender gap, and others. To this aim, the CSTD recommends policies and actions to improve connectivity and access to infrastructure, affordability, multilingualism and cultural preservation, digital skills and digital literacy, capacity development, and appropriate financing mechanisms.

Sustainable development

As the UN focal point for STI for development, the CSTD analyses the impact of digital technologies on sustainable development (assessing opportunities, risks, and challenges), including from the perspective of the ‘leaving no one behind’ principle. The CSTD also works to identify strategies, policies, and actions to foster the use of technology to empower people (especially vulnerable individuals and groups) and ensure inclusiveness and equality. In addition, it acts as a forum for strategic planning, sharing of good practices, and providing foresight about emerging and disruptive technologies.

Capacity development

Capacity development is one of the recurring themes that appear in draft resolutions prepared by the CSTD on the implementation of and follow-up to the WSIS outcomes. The CSTD often emphasises the need for countries and other stakeholders to focus on capacity development policies and actions to further enhance the role of the internet as a catalyst for growth and development. Strengthening the capacity of stakeholders to participate in internet governance processes is another objective the CSTD has been calling for, especially in regard to the Internet Governance Forum (IGF).

Digital tools

Interdisciplinary approaches: Internet governance

The CSTD was mandated to review the IGF process and suggest improvements. To this aim, the Working Group on Improvements to the IGF was established and a report recommending several action items regarding the IGF was delivered in 2012. The CSTD was also entrusted with the mandate to initiate discussions about enhanced cooperation in internet governance. It convened two working groups on enhanced cooperation (2013–2014 and 2016–2018); although consensus seemed to emerge on some issues, a divergence of views persisted on others and the Working Group could not find consensus on recommendations on how to further implement enhanced cooperation as envisioned in the Tunis Agenda.

UNCTAD is in charge of servicing the CSTD. As such, digital tools used by UNCTAD, for example, platform for online meetings, and social media for communications purposes are also employed for CSTD-related purposes. For instance, the 23rd and 24th CSTD annual sessions as well as the intersessional panel of the 24th CSTD were purely virtual, using the Interprefy platform. The intersessional panel and the annual session of the 25th CSTD were hybrid, combining online and in-person participation. The online platforms used were Interprefy and Zoom, respectively.

Social media channels

Facebook @UNCTAD

Flickr @UNCTAD

Instagram @unctad

LinkedIn @UNCTAD

Twitter @UNCTAD

YouTube @UNCTADOnline

1-Within the work of the CSTD, AI is placed under the term ‘frontier technologies’, which also includes big data analytics, biotech and genome editing, and IoT, https://unctad.org/en/Pages/CSTD/CSTDAbout.aspx

2-In the CSTD’s work, disparities related to access to the internet are referred to as the ‘digital divide’.

World Intellectual Property Organization

Acronym: WIPO

Established: 1967

Address: Chemin des Colombettes 34, 1211 Geneva 20, Switzerland

Website: https://www.wipo.int/

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

WIPO is a UN agency functioning as the global forum for intellectual property (IP) related services (patents, copyright, trademarks, and designs), policy, information, and cooperation. The organisation was established in 1967. It currently has 193 member states and over 200 observers representing non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and intergovernmental organisations. WIPO leads the development of a balanced and effective global IP ecosystem to promote innovation and creativity for a better and more sustainable future.

Digital activities

WIPO runs several online registration systems for patents and trademarks. There are also numerous databases available for use by stakeholders on the same subjects.

Digital policy issues

Frontier technologies including artificial intelligence

WIPO pays particular attention to the interplay between frontier technologies including artificial intelligence (AI) and IP.

The WIPO Conversation on IP and Frontier Technologies provides an open, inclusive forum to engage with and facilitate discussion and knowledge-building among the widest possible set of stakeholders. It leads the global discourse on the impact of frontier technologies on IP, in this fast-moving, complex space. Each year, WIPO usually holds two sessions of the Conversation covering both the uses and applications of frontier technologies to assist IP Offices and IP owners as well as more conceptual policy-based discussions to ensure that the IP systems continue to foster innovation. The five sessions of the WIPO Conversation to date have focused on AI, data, and frontier technologies in IP administration.

WIPO has prepared a paper exploring the (potential) impact of AI on IP policies in areas such as copyright and related rights, patents, trademarks, designs, and overall IP administration. It also maintains an AI and IP strategy clearing house, which collates government instruments (strategies, regulations, etc.) that are relevant to AI, data, and IP.

WIPO is also developing and deploying AI solutions in the context of various activities; relevant examples are WIPO Translate and the WIPO Brand Image Search, which use AI for automated translation and image recognition. The WIPO Index of AI Initiatives in IP Offices seeks to foster information sharing and collaboration between national IP Offices working on similar projects.

Alternative dispute resolution and critical internet resources

WIPO’sactivitiesregarding the Domain Name System(DNS) revolve around the protection of trademarks and related rights in the context of domain names. It developed the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy (UDRP) with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Under this policy, WIPO’s Arbitration and Mediation Center provides dispute resolution services for second-level domain name registrations under generic top-level domains (gTLDs) to which the UDPR applies. The Center also administers disputes under specific policies adopted by some gTLD registries (e.g. .aero, .asia, .travel). In addition, it offers domain name dispute resolution services for over 70 country code top-level domains (ccTLDs). WIPO has developed a ccTLD Program to provide advice to many ccTLD registries on the establishment of dispute resolution procedures. It also contributes to the work carried out within the framework of ICANN in regard to the strengthening of existing trademark rights protection mechanisms or the development of new such mechanisms.

Intellectual property rights

Trademarks

WIPO has long been involved in issues related to the protection of trademarks in the context of the DNS. The first phase of the WIPO Internet Domain Name Process, carried out in 1991, explored trademark abuse in second-level domain names, and led to the adoption, by ICANN, of the UDRP. WIPO has also contributed to the development of several trademark rights protection mechanisms applicable to gTLDs (such as legal rights objections, the Trademark Clearinghouse, and the uniform rapid suspension system). The WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center administers trademark-related dispute resolution cases for several gTLDs and ccTLDs.

Copyright

WIPO is actively contributing to international discussions on the opportunities offered by copyright in the digital environment, especially to developing economies, small and medium enterprises  (SMEs) and women entrepreneurs. The organisation administers the Internet Treaties and the Beijing Treaty, which clarify that existing copyright and related rights apply on the internet, and introduce new online rights, while also establishing international norms aimed at preventing unauthorised access to and use of creative works on the internet or other digital networks. The WIPO Accessible Books Consortium furthers the practical implementation of the Marrakesh Treaty to increase the number of books available worldwide in accessible digital formats. WIPO member states are considering topics related to copyright in the digital environment at the multilateral level. WIPO also carries out research and organises seminars and other meetings on aspects concerning challenges and possible solutions for taking advantage of the opportunities offered by copyright and related rights in the digital era.

Liability of intermediaries

Given WIPO’s concerns  regarding  the  protection of copyright and related rights on the internet, the organisation is exploring issues related to the roles and responsibilities of internet intermediaries when it comes to online copyright infringements. The organisation carries out or commissions research and publishes studies on the relationship between copyright and internet intermediaries (such as comparative analyses of national approaches to the liability of Internet intermediaries), and organises events (seminars, workshops, sessions at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum and Internet Governance Forum (IGF) meetings, etc.) aimed at facilitating multistakeholder discussions on the potential liability of internet intermediaries concerning copyright infringements.

  • Comparative analysis of national approaches of the liability of the internet intermediaries (I and II).

Sustainable development

WIPO is of the view that IP is a critical incentive for innovation and creativity, and, as such, a key to the success of the sustainable development goals (SDGs). The organisation works to enable member states to use the IP system to drive the innovation, competitiveness, and creativity needed to achieve the SDGs. It does so, for instance, through supporting countries in their efforts to build an innovative IP ecosystem, providing legislative advice on updating national IP laws, and supporting judiciary systems in keeping up with technological innovation. WIPO’s contribution to the implementation of the Agenda 2030 is guided by its Development Agenda.

Climate change

WIPO’s Global Challenges programme brings together various stakeholders to explore issues related to green technologies and the environment. For instance, it hosts WIPO GREEN, a multistakeholder platform aimed to promote innovation and diffusion of green technologies, and it provides analysis of relevant IP issues to facilitate international policy dialogue. The WIPO GREEN platform includes a digital database of more than 120,000 green technologies in sectors such as energy, water and transportation. In 2022, WIPO launched the Green Technology Book, a major digital publication to showcase concrete solutions related to climate change adaptation. The report will be fully integrated with the WIPO GREEN database, allowing for continuous additions by technology providers.

Digital tools

Some examples of the digital tools WIPO uses in relation to its services:

  • WIPO Online Case Administration Tools, including WIPO eADR (allowing parties in a dispute, mediators, arbitrators, and experts in a WIPO case to securely submit communications electronically into an online docket) and online facilities for meetings and hearings as part of WIPO cases.
  • WIPO GREEN – online marketplace for sustainable technologies.
  • WIPO Match – platform that matches seekers of specific IP-related development needs with potential providers offering resources.
  • WIPO Alert – platform to upload information on entities that infringed copyright at national level.
  • Madrid e-services – online tools and resources.
  • Electronic Forum – enables the electronic distribution and submission by email of comments concerning preliminary draft working documents and draft reports.
  • WIPO Academy – also includes an eLearning Centre.
  • WIPO Connect – enables collective management of copyright and related rights at local and central levels.
  • ABC Global Book Service – on-line catalogue that allows participating libraries for the blind and organisations serving people who are print disabled to obtain accessible content.
  • WIPO Knowledge Centre – hosts virtual exhibitions. Recent subjects have included geographical indications, and AI.

Social media channels

Facebook @WIPO

Flickr @WIPO

Instagram @wipo

LinkedIn @WIPO

Podcast @https://www.wipo.int/podcasts/en/

Twitter @WIPO

YouTube @WIPO

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe

Acronym: UNECE

Established: 1947

Address: Palais des Nations, 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Website: https://www.unece.org/info/ece-homepage.html

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

UNECE is one of five regional commissions of the UN. Its major aim is to promote pan-European economic integration. To do so, it brings together 56 countries in Europe, North America, and Central Asia, which discuss and cooperate on economic and sectoral issues.

UNECE works to promote sustainable development and economic growth through policy dialogue, negotiation of international legal instruments, development of regulations and norms, exchange and application of best practices, economic and technical expertise, and technical cooperation for countries with economies in transition. It also sets out norms, standards, and conventions to facilitate international cooperation.

Digital activities

UNECE’s work touches on several digital policy issues, ranging from digital standards (in particular in relation to electronic data interchange for administration, commerce, and transport) to the internet of things (IoT) (e.g. intelligent transport systems). Its activities on connected vehicles and automated driving systems are essential to seize the benefits of technical progress and disruptions in that field and to operationalise new mobility concepts such as Mobility as a Service (MaaS). Its UN/CEFACT develops trade facilitation recommendations and electronic business standards, covering both commercial and government business processes. UNECE also carries out activities focused on promoting sustainable development, in areas such as sustainable and smart cities for all ages; sustainable mobility and smart connectivity; and measuring and monitoring progress towards the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

UNECE’s work in the field of statistics is also relevant for digital policy issues. For example, the 2019 Guidance on Modernizing Statistical Legislation– which guides countries through the process of reviewing and revising statistical legislation – covers issues such as open data, national and international data exchanges, and government data management.

UNECE carries out extensive work in the area of sustainable transport leading on several UN Conventions. Accession to the conventions continues to increase as more and more member states realise the benefits in the time taken and associated costs in the movement of goods. Numerous digitised systems have been developed, and are maintained, hosted, and administered under the auspices of UNECE. For a number of other tools and mechanisms, work is underway.

Digital policy issues

Digital standards

UNECE’s intergovernmental body UN/CEFACT continues making great strides in the area of digital standards. In a recent collaboration with the International Federation of Freight-Forwarders Associations (FIATA), it developed the electronic FIATA Multimodal Bill of Lading (eFBL) data standard. The basis of the mapping of the Negotiable FIATA Multimodal Transport Bill of Lading (FBL) with the UN/CEFACT Multimodal Transport (MMT) reference data model, allows the exchange of BL data in a standardised way, facilitating interoperability between all modes of transport and industry stakeholders. Similar to other data standards developed by UN/CEFACT, the data standard is offered as open-source for all software providers and industry stakeholders to implement. UNECE’s standardisation work builds on a family of reference data models in alignment with its strategy to become the next generation of global standards for trade and transport information exchange. Other digital standards in the areas of supply chain management, agriculture, and travel and tourism (e.g. Buy Ship Pay Reference Data Model, Textile and Leather Data Model (Part 1 and Part 2), and Travel and Tourism Experience Programme Data Model) are a great step toward paperless trade and benefit all actors of the supply chain by reducing costs, increasing security, and gaining efficiency.

Internet of things and artificial intelligence

As the UN centre for inland transport, UNECE hosts international regulatory platforms in the field of automated driving and intelligent transport systems. It hosts multilateral agreements and conventions ruling the requirements and the use of these technologies (such as the UN agreements on vehicle regulations and the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic). Its activities (e.g. facilitating policy dialogue and developing regulations and norms) contribute to enabling automated driving functionalities and ensuring that the benefits of these technologies can be captured without compromising safety and progress achieved in areas such as border crossing and interoperability. It also collaborates with other interested stakeholders, including the automotive and information and communications technology (ICT) industries, consumer organisations, governments, and international organisations.

Another area of work for UNECE is related to harnessing smart technologies and innovation for sustainable and smart cities. In this regard, it promotes the use of ICTs in city planning and service provision and it has developed (together with ITU) a set of key performance indicators for smart sustainable cities. UNECE also works to facilitate connectivity through sustainable infrastructure. For instance, it assists countries in developing smart grids for more efficient energy distribution, and it administers international e-roads, e-rail, and e-waterway networks.

UNECE launched the Advisory Group on Advanced Technology in Trade and Logistics (AGAT) in 2020 on topics, such as distributed ledger technologies (DLT) including blockchain, IoT, and AI.

Artificial intelligence for energy

AI and other technologies are inspiring energy suppliers, transmission and distribution companies, and demand sectors (buildings, industry, transport) to establish new business models to generate, deliver, and consume energy in a more sustainable way.

UNECE established a task force on digitalization in energy to offer a platform for cross-industry experts from the energy sector and digital innovation to develop a unified voice on digitalisation in energy.

The group found that AI and digitalisation have the potential to reduce residential and commercial buildings’ energy use by as much as 10% globally by 2040 if applied throughout a building’s value chain and life cycle. In particular, applications of AI may help optimise a building’s orientation for solar heat gain and predict power and heat needs, thus increasing overall energy security and maximising the integration of renewable energy sources.

The group also found that AI and digitalisation could help achieve energy savings of at least 10%–20% in the industrial sector (which consumes around 38% of global final energy and produces 24% of greenhouse gases).

Automated driving

Blockchain

UNECE’s subsidiary body UN/CEFACT has been exploring the use of blockchain for trade facilitation. For instance, work carried out within the Blockchain White Paper Project has resulted in two white papers: One looking at the impact of blockchain on the technical standards work of UN/CEFACT and another looking at how blockchain could facilitate trade and related business processes. The ongoing Chain Project is focused on developing a framework/mechanism for the development and implementation of blockchain services infrastructure, and creating a whitepaper on strategy for the development and implementation of interoperable global blockchain technology infrastructure. Another blockchain-related project looks into the development of a standard on the creation of a cross-border inter-customs ledger using blockchain technology.

Critical infrastructure

UNECE achieved a transformative milestone with regard to cybersecurity in the broad automotive sector with the adoption of UN Regulation No. 155 (Cyber Security and CSMS) and UN Regulation No. 156 (Software Updates).

Before that, cyber risks related to connected vehicles were apparent but not systematically addressed. Security researchers alerted the public of them by revealing various vulnerabilities. There were only narrow standards and guidelines for securing vehicles, such as standards for secure communication among Electronic Control Units (ECUs) and for hardware encryption.

UNECE’s World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations (Working Party on Automated/Autonomous and Connected Vehicles (GRVA) WP.29) adopted two important new regulations on cybersecurity and over-the-air software updates and led to the situation where cybersecurity became non-negotiable for securing market access via type approval for those countries applying this regime. GRVA also developed recommendations on uniform provisions concerning cybersecurity and software updates for countries applying the self-certification regime.

Under the 1958 Agreement (binding to 54 countries)

Data governance

UNECE carries out multiple activities of relevance for the area of data governance.
First, its work on trade facilitation also covers data management issues. For example, it has issued a white paper on a data pipeline concept for improving data quality in the supply chain and a set of Reference Data Model Guidelines. Several projects carried out in the framework of UNECE’s subsidiary UN/CEFACT also cover data-related issues.  Examples include the  Buy-Ship-Pay  Reference Data Model (BSP-RDM), the Supply Chain Reference Data Model (SCRDM), the Multi-Modal Transport Reference Data Model (MMT-RDM), the Cross-border Management Reference Data Model Project (to provide a regulatory reference data model within the UN/CEFACT semantic library in order to assist authorities to link this information to the standards of other organisations), the Sustainable Development and Circular Economy Reference Data Model Project, and the Accounting and Audit Reference Data Model Project.

Second, UNECE has a statistical division, which coordinates international statistical activities between UNECE countries and helps to strengthen, modernise, and harmonise statistical systems under the guidance of the Conference of European Statisticians. Its activities in this area are guided by the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics, adopted in 1992 and later endorsed by the ECOSOC and the UNGA. Areas of work include economic statistics, statistics on population, gender and society, statistics related to sustainable development and the environment, and modernisation of official statistics. In 2019, UNECE published a Guidance on Modernizing Statistical Legislation to guide countries through the process of reviewing and revising statistical legislation. The guidance covers issues such as open data, national and international data exchanges, and government data management.

Third, UNECE keeps abreast of external developments, (e.g. in Europe or an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) country), related to challenges related to AI, privacy, and human rights. This is the case for example with the activities on transport and automated vehicles. The GRVA is reflecting on the impact of general AI policies in its activities and developed possible ways to add layers in its multi-pillar approach to validate the performance of the Automated Driving System, and therefore to integrate considerations on data management in the context of AI agent training, support features, and functions of automated driving, and collaborate with the automotive sector on this matter.

E-commerce and trade

UNECE’s subsidiary, UN/CEFACT, serves as a focal point (within ECOSOC) for trade facilitation recommendations and electronic business standards, covering both commercial and government business processes. In collaboration with the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS), UNECE developed the Electronic business using eXtensible Mark-up Language (ebXML). Another output of UNECE is represented by the UN rules for Electronic Data Interchange for Administration, Commerce and Transport (UN/ EDIFACT), which include internationally agreed upon standards, directories, and guidelines for the electronic interchange of structured data between computerised information systems. UNECE has also issued recommendations on issues such as Single Window, electronic commerce agreements, and e-commerce self-regulatory instruments. In addition, UN/CEFACT works on supporting international, regional, and national e-government efforts to improve trade facilitation and e-commerce systems.

Recommendation 33 – Single Window Recommendation

UN Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT) Trade facilitation recommendations | UNECE

Digital and environment

UNECE’s work in the area of environmental policy covers a broad range of issues, such as air pollution, transboundary water cooperation,  industrial safety,  environmental democracy, the green economy, environmental monitoring and impact assessment, and education for sustainable development. Much of this work is carried out by the Committee on Environmental Policy, which, among other tasks, supports countries in their efforts to strengthen their environmental governance and assesses their efforts to reduce their pollution burden, manage natural resources, and integrate environmental and socio-economic policies. UNECE has put in place an Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Programme to assist member states in working with environmental data and information and enable informed decision-making processes. As part of this programme, it promotes the use of electronic tools for accessing information and knowledge on environmental matters and is supporting the continued development of a Shared Environmental Information System across the UNECE region. The system is intended to enable countries to connect databases and make environmental data more accessible.

The INForest database offers the most up-to-date source of information about the size of the forest area in the UNECE region, how it has changed over decades, the structure of forests, the goods and services forests provide, as well as their contribution to the economy, society and the environment.

UNECE has developed policy guidance to support the digital inclusion of older people. In the Rome Ministerial Declaration on Ageing, adopted in June 2022, Ministers pledged to ‘promote age-friendly digitalisation, products and services, and support innovation for the silver economy’.

Recognising the importance of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) traceability in achieving SDG 12 and considering the rich body of expertise and standards already available through UNECE, UNECE broadened the focus of the Team of Specialists (ToS) on sustainable fisheries to (ESG) traceability of sustainable value chains in the circular economy.

UNECE Environmental Conventions and Protocols (not necessarily covering digital issues directly, but relevant):

Sustainable development

UNECE assists countries in its region to address sustainable development challenges (in areas such as environment, connectivity, and urbanisation) through offering policy advice; leveraging its norms, standards, and conventions; and building capacities. It focuses on driving progress towards the following SDGs: good health and well-being (SDG 3), clean water and sanitation (SDG 6), affordable and clean energy (SDG 7), decent work and economic growth (SDG 8), industry, innovation and infrastructure (SDG 9), sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11), responsible consumption and production (SDG 12), climate action (SDG 13), and life on land (SDG 15). Gender equality (SDG 5) and partnerships (SDG 17) are overarching for all UNECE activities. Activities undertaken by UNECE concerning these SDGs converge under four high-impact areas: sustainable use of natural resources; sustainable and smart cities for all ages; sustainable mobility and smart connectivity; and measuring and monitoring progress towards the SDGs.

UNECE has developed a series of tools and standards to support countries in measuring and monitoring progress towards the SDGs. It has also put in place an Innovation Policy Outlook, which assesses the scope, quality, and performance of policies, institutions, and instruments promoting innovation for sustainable development.

Privacy and data protection

The World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations has included guidelines on cybersecurity and data protection in its consolidated resolution on the construction of vehicles, including principles of lawful, fair, and transparent processing of personal data: (1) respecting the identity and privacy of the data subject; (2) not discriminating against data subjects based on their personal data; (3) paying attention to the reasonable expectations of the data subjects with regard to the transparency and context of the data processing; (4) maintaining the integrity and trustworthiness of information technology systems and in particular not secretly manipulating data processing; (5) taking into account the benefit of data processing depending on the free flow of data, communication and innovation, as far as data subjects have to respect the processing of personal data with regard to the overriding general public interest; and (6) ensuring the preservation of individual mobility data according to necessity and purpose.

These guidelines were referred to in the Resolution on Data Protection in Automated and Connected Vehicles adopted during the 39th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners Hong Kong, 25–29 September 2017.

UNECE hosts several portals, applications, and digitalised conventions.

The Customs Convention on the International Transport of Goods under Cover of TIR (Transports Internationaux Routiers) Carnets (TIR Convention, 1975) is one of the most successful international transport conventions. It is the only universal customs transit system in existence.

The TIR system, used by over 34,000 transport and logistics companies in its 77 contracting parties, has already reduced cross-border transport time by up to 80%, and costs by up to 38%. The eTIR international system aims to ensure the secure exchange of data between national customs systems related to the international transit of goods, vehicles, or containers according to the provisions of the TIR Convention and to allow customs to manage the data on guarantees, issued by guarantee chains to holders authorised to use the TIR system.

Digital tools

The ITDB is an international online repository of information for all those authorised by contracting parties to use the TIR procedure. It is an integral part of the eTIR International system since only users approved in ITDB can use the eTIR system. The main goal of the ITDB is to foster the exchange of information between competent authorities of contracting parties and national associations.

  • eCPD – to be launched

The Carnet de Passages en Douane (CPD) system (i.e. a passport card for your vehicle) facilitates the temporary importation of private and commercial vehicles. The CPD system is based on two international conventions: the 1954 Customs Convention on the Temporary Importation of Private Road Vehicles and the 1956 Customs Convention on the Temporary Importation of Commercial Road Vehicles. Hosted by UNECE, the conventions combined have 96 contracting parties. Work has started to prepare the appropriate amendments to the 1954 and 1956 conventions describing the eCPD; prepare the high-level architecture including the concepts and functional and technical specifications of the future eCPD application; and develop the eCPD system based on these specifications.

  • eCMR – to be launched

The eCMR is based on the provisions of the Convention on the Contract for the International Carriage of Goods by Road (CMR) (1956) and especially on the provisions of the Additional Protocol to CMR Concerning the Electronic Consignment Note (2008). UNECE, which administers the CMR Convention, has been mandated by governments to administer the eCMR protocol and to establish a formal group of experts on the operationalisation of the eCMR procedure.

Digital visualisation

The observatory will be developed on a geographic information systems (GIS) platform with three main pillars of services: it offers an electronic repository of UNECE inland transport conventions, an innovative tool to finance transport infrastructure, and a way to promote sustainable regional and interregional connectivity.

The ITIO GIS platform assists in the analysis of possible future impacts of climate change on transport networks. The tool enables experts to identify sections of transport networks potentially exposed to the effects of climate change.

Digital enabler

The SITCIN tool allows countries to measure their degree of transport connectivity, both domestically and bilaterally/sub-regionally, as well as in terms of soft and hard infrastructure.

UNECE digital tools facilitating access to statistical information:

UNECE online platforms and observatories gather updates and policy resources to help member states respond to the COVID-19 crisis:

Future of meetings

Guided by the assessments of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the host country authorities, UNECE’s respective governing bodies and partner organisations amended the format and conduct of meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure business continuity and delivery of support to its member states.

Hybrid and online meeting formats continue to be used.

UNECE Executive Committee – Special procedures during the COVID-19 period (adopted in April 2020 and extended in July 2020)

  • Use of the silence procedure for decision-making;

Social media channels

Facebook @UNECE

Flickr @UNECE

Instagram @un_ece

Twitter @UNECE

YouTube @UNECE

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University of Geneva

Acronym: UNIGE

Established: 1559

Address: Rue du Général-Dufour 24, 1211 Geneva, Switzerland

Website: https://www.unige.ch/international/index_en.html

Stakeholder group: Academia & think tanks

With more than 18,000 students of 150+ nationalities, UNIGE is the second-largest university in Switzerland. It offers 227 study programmes (including 140 Bachelor’s and Master’s degree programmes and 87 doctoral programmes) and 427 continuing education programmes covering an extremely wide variety of fields: exact sciences, medicine, humanities, social sciences, law, etc.

Digital activities

UNIGE has incorporated digital technology into its strategy and appointed a vice-rector in charge of defining and piloting digital initiatives in the fields of education, research, and services to society. A Digital Transformation Office was also set up to identify and connect digital actors within the institution and federate digital activities and projects while encouraging the emergence of innovative projects.

The digital strategy in place considers digital technology both as a tool for teachers and researchers, and as a subject for teaching and research. It brings UNIGE to the fore in debates on digital technology at the local, national, and international level.

An Action Plan accompanies UNIGE’s digital strategy. It is regularly updated to report on progress and incorporate new digital initiatives or projects that have emerged within the university community. It is a guiding document indicating the activities and projects that the Rectorate particularly wishes to support.

Many more digital activities are carried out within the institution, while they are not included in the Action Plan. This is, for instance, the case of the activities carried out by the Division of Information and Communication Systems and Technologies (DiSTIC) along with many digital projects carried out by the academic community and central services. UNIGE is internationally recognized for its research in quantum cryptography, and is developing high-ranking research activities in the fields of digital humanities, autonomous vehicles, and digital law.

More information on the university’s digital strategy and action plan can be found at https://www.unige.ch/numerique/en.

Digital policy issues

Capacity development

In an attempt to develop digital literacy within its community, UNIGE has put in place a series of measures to meet the needs of its students, researchers, administrative staff, and other community members. To this end, the university offers a series of optional transversal courses open to all students and provides training and workshops on particular digital skills and tools for advanced students and researchers. It is also developing and deploying its Open Science roadmap, which includes training on research data management and Open Access publishing.

As part of its digital strategy, UNIGE created a Digital Law Center (DLC) at the Faculty of Law. The DLC provides courses focused on the internet and law. It also organizes its annual Digital Law Summer School, where participants can discuss digital law and policy issues, such as cybersecurity, privacy, freedom of expression, and intellectual property with leading experts from academia and international organizations. Every year since 2016, UNIGE has organized the Geneva Digital Law Research Colloquium (run by the DLC in cooperation with other leading academic centers, including the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University). This event is a scientific workshop that gives an opportunity to next-generation digital law and policy researchers to present and discuss various digital policy issues, such as freedom of expression online, copyright, and the internet of things (IoT) with senior high-level experts.

Together with ETH Zurich, UNIGE recently created a Lab for Science in Diplomacy (SiDLab). In this respect, it created two professorships in Computational Diplomacy, developed jointly by the Global Studies Institute (GSI) and the Department of Computer Science of the Faculty of Science. One is specialized in data science, particularly machine learning (ML), and the other focuses on data categorization in relation to complexity theories and global studies. With these two new positions, UNIGE aims to improve the understanding of global issues by developing a new theoretical framework for international relations, using new algorithms and mobilizing computing power to develop scenarios. Leveraging its multidisciplinary culture, UNIGE has recently created a transversal Data Science Competence Center (CCSD) aimed at federating competencies from all faculties and enabling cross-fertilization between various disciplines to develop advanced research and services. Since its creation, more than 600 researchers have joined the CCSD community and actively participate in its research and learning activities. To support the teaching community with digital transformation, UNIGE has created a portal for online and blended learning with a set of resources to help tutors prepare their courses and classes. Some of the resources are intended for self-training, while others provide users with training/coaching opportunities with UNIGE e-learning and blended learning experts.

When students are positioned as partners in university communities, they become active participants with valuable expertise to contribute to shaping the process of digital transformation. The Partnership Projects Program (P3) provides students, alongside academic and professional staff, with the opportunity to bring forward their ideas to improve the digital tools and services at the university. Students and staff are engaged on a project they designed, and they work together towards the shared goal of learning from their partners and improving the university with a solution meeting their needs. At the end of the project, the university may carry on with the implementation of the proposed solution, leading to a new digital service or tool for the community.

UNIGE maintains an IT Service Catalogue where students and staff members can access all digital tools the university provides, such as the UNIGE Mobile App, Moodle, UNIGE’s data storage system, and many others.

UNIGE also offers a number of MOOCs (massive open online courses) open to everyone. Subjects range from Human Rights to Chemical Biology, from Water Resources Management to Exoplanets, or from Investment Management to Global Health.

Future of meetings

UNIGE events are places where experts can meet and exchange ideas, where knowledge and information can be passed on to the university community and to society at large. They are living pillars of UNIGE’s research, teaching and public service missions. The organization of these events has been severely challenged by the COVID-19, but the use of digital tools has made it possible to keep these meeting and exchange places alive. It was also an opportunity to rethink the formats and ambitions of UNIGE events for the long term, as digital tools have the potential to facilitate access to knowledge, increase the influence of UNIGE events, and reduce the environmental impact of participants’ travels.

Many UNIGE events are now being organized in a virtual or hybrid format, such as the Dies Academicus and public and scientific conferences organized by the faculties. For instance, the series of public conferences, Parlons numérique organized each year by the Digital Transformation Office, has a hybrid format allowing remote participants to interact with the speakers. A dedicated website helps UNIGE community members willing to organize virtual or hybrid events.

Social media channels

Facebook @unigeneve

Instagram @unigeneve, @unigenumerique

LinkedIn @universite-de-geneve

Twitter @UNIGE_en, @unigenumerique

YouTube @Université de Genève

World Health Organization

Acronym: WHO

Established: 1948

Address: Av. Appia 20 1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland

Website: https://www.who.int/en/

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

WHO is a specialized agency of the UN whose role is to direct and coordinate2 international health within the UN system. As a member state organization, its main areas of work include health systems, the promotion of health, non-communicable diseases, communicable diseases, corporate services, preparedness, and surveillance and response.

WHO assists countries in coordinating multi-sectoral efforts by governments and partners (including bi- and multilateral meetings, funds and foundations, civil society organizations, and the private sector) to attain their health objectives and support their national health policies and strategies.

Data and digital activities

WHO is harnessing the power of digital technologies and health innovation to accelerate global attainment of health and well-being. It uses digital technology intensively in its development of activities, ranging from building public health infrastructure in developing countries and immunization to dealing with disease outbreaks.

WHO has strengthened its approach to data by ensuring this strategic asset has two divisions: (1) the Division of Data, Analytics and Delivery for Impact. This has helped strengthen data governance by promoting sound data principles and accountability mechanisms, as well as ensuring that the necessary policies and tools are in place that can be used by all three levels of the organization and can be adopted by member states. Digital health and innovation are high on WHO’s agenda; it is recognized for its role in strengthening health systems through the application of digital health technologies for consumers/ people and healthcare providers as part of achieving its vision of health for all. (2) WHO also established the new Department of Digital Health and Innovation in 2019 within its Science Division. Particular attention is paid to promoting global collaboration and advancing the transfer of knowledge on digital health; advancing the implementation of national digital health strategies; strengthening the governance for digital health at the global, regional, and national levels; and advocating for people-centred health systems enabled by digital health. These strategic objectives have been developed in consultation with member states throughout 2019 and 2020 and will be submitted for adoption to the upcoming 2021 World Health Assembly.

The Division of Data Analytics and Delivery for Impact and the Department of Digital Health and Innovation work closely together to strengthen links between data and digital issues, as well as data governance efforts. Digital health technologies, standards, and protocols enable health systems to integrate the exchange of health data within the health system. Coupled with data governance, ethics, and public health data standards, digital health and innovation enable the generation of new evidence and knowledge through research and innovation and inform health policy through public health analysis.

More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated WHO’s digital response, collaboration, and innovation in emergencies. Some examples include collaborating to use artificial intelligence (AI) and data science in analyzing and delivering information in response to the COVID-19 ‘infodemic’ (i.e. overflow of information, including misinformation, in an acute health event, which prevents people from accessing reliable information about how to protect themselves); promoting cybersecurity in the health system, including hospitals and health facilities; learning from using AI, data science, digital health, and innovation in social science research, disease modelling, and simulations, as well as supporting the epidemiological response to the pandemic; and producing vaccines and preparing for the equitable allocation and distribution of vaccines.

Digital policy issues

WHO is a leader among Geneva-based international organizations in the use of social media, through its awareness-raising of health-related issues. It was awarded first prize at the Geneva Engage Awards in 2016, and second prize in 2017.

The WHO/International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Focus Group on Artificial Intelligence for Health (WHO/ITU FG-AI4H) works to establish a standardized assessment framework for the evaluation of AI-based methods for health, diagnosis, triage, or treatment decisions.

Digital standards

Online gaming: Since 2018, gaming disorder has been included in WHO’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD). While the negative impacts of online gaming on health are being increasingly addressed by national health policies, it has been recognized by some authorities, such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), that some game-based devices could have a therapeutic effect. Given the fast growth of online gaming and its benefits and disadvantages, the implications on health are expected to become more relevant.

The health top-level domain name: Health-related generic top-level domain (gTLD) names, in all languages, including ‘.health’, ‘.doctor’, and ‘.surgery’, should be operated in a way that protects public health and includes the prevention of further development of illicit markets of medicines, medical devices, and unauthorized health products and services. Resolution WHA66.24: eHealth Standardization and Interoperability (2013).

Net neutrality

The issue of net neutrality (the equal treatment of internet traffic) could affect bandwidth and the stability of digital connections, especially for high-risk activities such as online surgical interventions. Thus, health organizations may be granted exceptional provisions, as the EU has already done, where health and specialized services enjoy exceptions regarding the principle of net neutrality. Resolution WHA66.24: eHealth Standardization and Interoperability (2013).

WHO has dedicated cybersecurity focal points, who work with legal and licensing colleagues to provide frameworks for the organization to not only protect WHO data from various cyber-risks, but also provide technical advice to WHO and member states on the secure collection, storage, and dissemination of data. Health facilities and health data have always been the target of cybercriminals; however, the COVID-19 crisis has brought into sharp focus the cybersecurity aspects of digital health.

Ransomware attacks threaten the proper functioning of hospitals and other healthcare providers. The global Wannacry ransomware attack in May 2017 was the first major attack on hospitals and disrupted a significant part of the UK’s National Health System (NHS). Ransomware attacks on hospitals and health research facilities accelerated during the COVID-19 crisis.

Considering that data is often the main target of cyberattacks, it should come as no surprise that most cybersecurity concerns regarding healthcare are centred on the protection of data. Encryption is thus crucial for the safety of health data: It both protects data from prying eyes and helps assuage the fears patients and consumers may have about sharing or storing sensitive information through the internet.

Data governance

The 2021 Health Data Governance Summit brought together experts to review best practices in data governance, sharing, and use. The result was a call to action to tackle the legal and ethical challenges of sharing data, ensure data is shared during both emergency and non-emergency situations, and encourage data and research stewardship that promotes tangible impact. Key WHO resources include WHO’s Data Sharing Policies, the UN Joint Statement on Data Protection and Privacy in the COVID-19 Response, and GATHER (Guidelines for Accurate and Transparent Health Estimates Reporting).

WHO’s SCORE technical package (Survey, Count, Optimize, Review, and Enable) identifies data gaps and provides countries with tools to precisely address them. SCORE has been developed in partnership with the Bloomberg Data for Health Initiative. As part of SCORE, WHO completed the first ever global assessment of health information systems capacity in 133 countries, covering 87% of the world’s population.

The project Strengthening National Nutrition Information Systems1 is running in five countries in Africa and Asia – Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Laos, Uganda, and Zambia – for a period of four years (2020–2024). Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) and national nutrition surveys are the major sources of nutrition data for many countries, but they are complex and expensive undertakings that cannot be implemented with the required frequency. It is, therefore, critical to strengthen or establish integrated nutrition information systems (NIS) of countries to enhance the availability and use of routine nutrition data to better support policy development, programme design and monitoring.

Data-driven delivery approach

A data-driven delivery approach sharpens WHO’s focus to address gaps, close inequalities, and accelerate progress towards national and regional priorities from WHO regions. The WHO Regional Office for the Americas is working to create open data platforms for evidence-based decisions and policymaking. The Core Indicators Portal provides a dataset of around 200 health indicators for 49 countries across the region from 1995 to 2021. The WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean is conducting harmonized health facility assessments and tracking 75 indicators through the Regional Health Observatory (RHO). The WHO Regional Office for Africa has prioritized investments in civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) and digital health. Its integrated African Health Observatory (iAHO) offers high-quality national and regional health data on a single platform and District Health Information Software (DHIS2) is now implemented in all but four African countries. The WHO Regional Office for South-East Asia is focused on promoting health equity through workshops that introduce member states to WHO’s Health Equity Assessment Toolkit (HEAT). High-quality data on health indicators is available on the Health Information Platform (HIP). The WHO Regional Office for Europe is prioritizing support for countries’ national health information systems (HIS) through more robust data governance frameworks. Member states also have access to the European Health Information Gateway, a one-stop shop for health information and data visualization. The WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific has released a progress report on each member state’s journey to achieving universal health coverage (UHC). Additionally, the Western Pacific Health Data Platform provides a single destination where countries can easily monitor and compare their progress towards national and global health objectives.

Access

WHO is working with Facebook and Praekelt.Org to provide  WHO’s  COVID-19  information to the world’s most vulnerable people through Discover and Free Basics in a mobile-friendly format. Though over 85% of the world’s population lives in areas with existing cellular coverage, many people can’t afford to purchase mobile data consistently and others have not yet adopted the internet. This initiative enables underserved communities to access life-saving COVID-19 health information through participating operators in more than 55 countries.

Sustainable development

Good Health and Well-being (SDG 3): To achieve a healthier population, improvements have been made in access to clean fuels, safe water, sanitation (WASH), and tobacco control. Greater focus is being placed on leading indicators for premature mortality and morbidity, such as tobacco, air pollution, road injuries, and obesity. Due to COVID-19, 94% of countries experienced disruption to essential health services. while 92 countries experienced little change or worsening trends in financial protection– exacerbated by the continuing pandemic. Emphasis on primary health care is essential to equitable recovery.

Climate change (SDG 13): The 10 recommendations in the COP26 Special Report on Climate Change and Health propose a set of priority actions from the global health community to governments and policymakers, calling on them to act with urgency on the current climate and health crises. The 2021 Global Conference on Health & Climate Change, with a special focus on Climate Justice and the Healthy and Green Recovery from COVID-19, convened on the margins of the COP26 UN climate change conference.

The SIDS Summit for Health in 2021 brought together small island developing states (SIDS) heads of states, ministers of health, and others to discuss the urgent health challenges and needs they face. It helped amplify SIDS voices, promote collaborative action, and strengthen health and development partnerships and financing. It included steps to advance ongoing health initiatives, and to help drive results at the UN Food Systems Summit in September 2021, the 26th Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November 2021, and the Nutrition for Growth Summits in December 2021 and the years following.

Strengthening Health Information Systems for Refugee- and Migrant-Sensitive Healthcare: Health information and research findings can provide a platform for understanding and responding to the health needs of refugees and migrants and for aligning the efforts of other sectors and sources of international assistance. However, the systematic national data and evidence comparable across countries and over time available for policy- and decision-making on health of refugees and migrants from around the world are inadequate. The WHO Health and Migration Programme (PHM) supports the strengthening of member-state information systems, providing specialized technical assistance, response, and capacity-building.

Human rights principles

Improving access to assistive technology: Assistive technology enables and promotes inclusion and participation, especially of persons with disability, ageing populations, and people with non-communicable diseases. The primary purpose of assistive products is to maintain or improve an individual’s functioning and independence, thereby promoting their well-being. Despite a growing number of people in need of assistive products in every country, only 5%–15%, or one in 10 people has access to assistive products. WHO coordinates the Global Cooperation on Assistive Technology (GATE) as a step towards realizing the SDGs and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), and implementing resolution WHA71.8 on assistive technology. The GATE initiative has the goal to support countries in addressing challenges and improving access to assistive products within their context. To achieve this, the GATE initiative is focusing on five interlinked areas (5Ps): people, policy, products, provision, and personnel.

Data and privacy protection

WHO supports the adoption of the Joint Statement on Data Protection and Privacy in the COVID-19 Response in line with the UN Personal Data Protection and Privacy Principles adopted by the UN System Organizations to support its use of data and technology in the COVID-19 response in a way that respects the right to privacy and other human rights and promotes economic and social development. Organizations in their operations should, at a minimum:

  • Be lawful, limited in scope and time, and necessary and proportionate to specified and legitimate purposes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Ensure appropriate confidentiality, security, time-bound retention, and proper destruction or deletion of data in accordance with the aforementioned purposes.
  • Ensure that any data exchange adheres to applicable international law, data protection and privacy principles, and is evaluated based on proper due diligence and risks assessments.
  • Be subject to any applicable mechanisms and procedures to ensure that measures taken with regard to data use are justified by and in accordance with the aforementioned principles and purposes, and cease as soon as the need for such measures is no longer present,
  • Be transparent in order to build trust in the deployment of current and future efforts alike.

Content policy: Infodemics

An infodemic is an overflow of information, including misinformation, that prevents people from accessing reliable information; in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, it hampers the ability of people to know how to protect themselves. Our current infodemic cannot be eliminated, but it can be managed by producing engaging reliable content and using digital, traditional media, and offline tools to disseminate it; engaging key stakeholder groups in cooperative content-creation and dissemination; empowering communities to protect themselves; and promoting community and individual resilience against misinformation. Digital health technologies and data science can support these activities by analyzing the information landscape and social dynamics in digital and analogue environments; delivering messages; supporting fact-checking and countering misinformation; promoting digital health, media, and health literacy; and optimizing the effectiveness of messages and their delivery through real time monitoring and evaluation (M&E), among others.

At the Munich Security Conference 2020, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated: ‘We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic.’ This translated into many WHO initiatives to counter the infodemic, such as working with the public and the scientific community to develop a framework for managing infodemics; bringing the scientific community together for the 1st WHO Infodemiology Conference;

Digital tools and initiatives

developing of a draft research agenda on managing infodemics, cooperating with UN agencies and the AI community; promoting reliable WHO information through a coordinated approach with Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other major tech platforms and services; and campaigning to counter misinformation.

WHO-trained infodemic managers, over 1,300 of them from 142 countries, are already making great strides in member states and together around the globe as a global community of practice. In Serbia, the Laboratory for Infodemiology and Infodemic Management has been established at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Belgrade. With the support of the WHO Country Office in Serbia, two infodemic managers working at the Institute of Social Medicine have gathered a multidisciplinary team that will be conducting research and supporting infodemic management in the country and the region.

Interdisciplinary

Public health challenges are complex and cannot be effectively addressed by one sector alone. A holistic, multi-sectoral, multidisciplinary approach is needed for addressing gaps and advancing coordination for health emergency preparedness and health security and is essential for the implementation of the International Health Regulations (IHR) 2005.

  • WHO Classifications and Terminologies: operates a one-stop shop for WHO classifications and terminologies and delivers and scales use of terminologies and classifications. WHO maintains a portfolio of digital tools and methods for emergency preparedness and response, for example:
  • Go.Data is an outbreak investigation tool for field data collection during public health emergencies. The tool includes functionality for case investigation, contact follow-up, and visualisation of chains of transmission including secure data exchange and is designed for flexibility in the field, to adapt to the wide range of outbreak scenarios. The tool is targeted at any outbreak responder.
  • Epidemic Intelligence from Open Sources (EIOS) is a unique collaboration between various public health stakeholders around the globe. It brings together new and existing initiatives, networks, and systems to create a unified all-hazards, One Health approach to early detection, verification, assessment, and communication of public health threats using publicly available information. Creating a community of practice for public health intelligence (PHI) that includes member states, international organizations,  research institutes, and other partners and collaborators is at the heart of the initiative; saving lives through early detection of threats and subsequent intervention is its ultimate goal. Since January 2022, the lead of the EIOS initiative is hosted within the new WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence. As one of the Hub’s flagship initiatives, EIOS is one of the main vehicles for building a strong PHI community of practice, as well as a multidisciplinary network supporting it.
  • Digital proximity tracking technologies have been identified as a potential tool to support contact tracing for COVID-19. However, these technologies raise ethical and privacy concerns. This document
  • Ethical Considerations to Guide the Use of Digital Proximity Tracking Technologies for COVID-19 Contact Tracing – provides policymakers and other stakeholders with guidance as to the ethical and appropriate use of digital proximity tracking technologies for COVID-19.
  • WHO Digital and Innovation for Health Online Community to Fight COVID-19 is a platform for discussion and sharing experiences and innovative responses related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The new Survey Count Optimize Review Enable (SCORE) for Health Data Technical Package was published during one of the most data-strained public health crisis responses ever – that of the COVID-19 pandemic. SCORE can guide countries to take action by providing a one-stop shop for best technical practices that strengthen health information systems, using universally accepted standards and tools.
  • WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence supports countries, and regional and global actors in addressing future pandemic and epidemic risks with better access to data, better analytical capacities, and better tools and insights for decision-making.

Health data

  • WHO Health Data Hub (WHDH) is a single repository of health data in WHO and establishes a data governance mechanism for member states.
  • Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) registers all births and deaths, issues birth and death certificates, and compiles and disseminates vital statistics, including cause of death information. It may also record marriages and divorces.
  • The open-access WHO Snakebite Envenoming Information and Data Platform is already working to shorten the time between a snakebite and receiving antivenom. It does this by mapping the distribution of venomous snakes, known antivenoms, and the proximity to health facilities that stock them.

Public health strategy, planning and monitoring

  • The Triple Billion Dashboard is the foundation of WHO’s Thirteenth General Programme of Work (GPW 13) acting as both a measurement and a policy strategy. It is an integral part of the GPW 13’s Results
  • Framework, a new tool designed to measure and improve WHO’s impact on health at the country level. Measurement of these targets is closely aligned with those of the SDGs, to reduce country burden in data collection and streamline efforts to accelerate progress towards achieving key targets.
  • The organization also integrates digital health interventions in its strategies for certain diseases. WHO’s Global Observatory for e-Health (GOe) aims to assist member states with information and guidance on practices and standards in the field of e-health.
  • The newly established Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Centre for Health enables spatial representation of data to support better public health planning and decision-making.
  • The Health Equity Monitor is a platform for health inequality monitoring, which includes datatabases of disaggregated data, a handbook on health inequality monitoring, and step-by-step manuals for national health inequality monitoring (generally and specifically for immunization inequality monitoring).
  • The Health Assessment Toolkit is a software application that facilitates the assessment of health inequalities in countries. Inequality data can be visualized through a variety of interactive graphs, maps, and tables. Results can be exported and used for priority-setting and policymaking.

Health facilities data

Digital health solutions

  • The Digital Health Atlas is a global registry of implemented digital health solutions. It is open and available to anyone to register and contribute information about digital implementations. The registry provides a consistent way to document digital solutions, and offers functionalities in a web platform to assist technologists, implementers, governments, and donors for inventory, planning, coordinating, and using digital systems for health. The Digital Health Atlas includes a special focus on listing digital technologies related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The repository of information is open to all users to register projects, download project information, and connect with digital health practitioners globally.
  • Be He@lthy, Be Mobile (BHBM) helps users access the right information when they need it. In support of national governments, BHBM is helping millions of people quit tobacco, and control diabetes and cervical cancer. It helps people at risk of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and those who care for older people.
  • WHO features a new in-game character on Goodville named Florence, along with exciting expeditions and in-game events to help players better understand themselves by providing advice for achieving and maintaining physical and emotional well-being.
  • WHO has launched a women’s health chatbot with messaging on breast cancer. The new chatbot uses the Viber platform to deliver health information directly to subscribers’ mobile phones. People subscribing to the new chatbot will find information on how to reduce the risk of breast cancer, symptoms and treatment options.

Resources

Resolutions and deliberations on eHealth

  • Resolution WHA58.28 eHealth
  • Resolution WHA71.7 (2018): The resolution urges member states to prioritize the development and greater use of digital technologies in health as a means of promoting Universal Health Coverage and advancing the SDGs.
  • Report EB 142/20 (2018): The Executive Board in January 2018 considered the updated report ‘mHealth: Use of appropriate digital technologies for public health’. This updated version of the report also includes the use of other digital technologies for public health.
  • Report EB139/8 (2016): The Executive Board considered ‘mHealth: Use of mobile wireless technologies for public health,’ reflecting the increasing importance of this resource for health services delivery and public health, given their ease of use, broad reach and wide acceptance.
  • Resolution WHA66.24 (2013): The World Health Assembly recognized the need for health data standardization to be part of eHealth systems and services, and the importance of proper governance and operation of health-related global top-level Internet domain names, including ‘.health’.
  • Joint Statement on Data Protection and Privacy in the COVID-19 Response (2020) is developed by the UN Privacy Policy Group, an inter-agency group on data privacy and data protection, to support the privacy protective use of data and technology by the UN in fighting the current pandemic.
  • The purpose of a Global Strategy on Digital Health (2020-2025) is to promote healthy lives and well- being for everyone, everywhere, at all ages. To deliver its potential, national or regional digital health initiatives must be guided by a robust strategy that integrates financial, organzsational, human, and technological resources.

For detailed coverage of WHO resources, tools, and programmes visit dig.watch/actors and giplatform.org/actors/world-health-organization.

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The World Health Summit is the world’s leading global health conference where science, politics, the private sector and civil society meet for inspiring talks, enhanced co-operation and new solutions [16 to 18 October 2022, Berlin, #WHS2022].

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World Trade Organization

Acronym: WTO

Established: 1995

Address: Centre William Rappard, Rue de Lausanne 154, 1211 Geneva 21, Switzerland

Website: https://www.wto.org/

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

WTO is an intergovernmental organisation that deals with the rules of trade among its members. Its main functions include administering WTO trade agreements, providing a forum for trade negotiations, settling trade disputes, monitoring national trade policies, providing technical assistance and training for developing countries, and ensuring cooperation with other international organisations.

WTO members have negotiated and agreed upon rules regulating international trade, fostering transparency and predictability in the international trading system. The main agreements are the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the WTO, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), and the Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement).

Digital activities

Several internet governance and digital trade policy- related issues are discussed in WTO. E-commerce discussions are ongoing under the Work Programme on Electronic Commerce and among a group of 87 WTO members currently negotiating e-commerce rules under the Joint Statement Initiative (JSI) on E-commerce. Discussions focus on several digital issues, including data flows and data localisation, source code, cybersecurity, privacy, consumer protection, capacity building, and customs duties on electronic transmissions.

As part of its outreach activities, WTO organises numerous events such as the Aid for Trade Global Review and an annual Public Forum, which brings together governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), academics, businesses, and other stakeholders for discussions on a broad range of issues, including many relating to the digital economy.

Digital policy issues

Telecommunications

In 1997, WTO members successfully concluded negotiations on market access for basic telecommunications services, which resulted in new specific commitments in the sector for a significant part of  WTO  membership.  These negotiations also resulted in the Reference Paper, a set of regulatory principles for basic telecommunication services that various members have inscribed in their schedules of commitments. Since 1997, the number of members that have undertaken market access commitments on telecommunications and subscribed to the Reference Paper has continued to increase as a result of new governments joining WTO through the process of accession. Under the JSI negotiations, participants are discussing a proposal that seeks to update the provisions of the Reference Paper.

Digital standards (1)

International standards are important to the global digital economy as they can enable interconnectivity and interoperability for telecommunications and internet infrastructures. The WTO Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement (TBT Agreement) aims to ensure that technical regulations, standards, and conformity assessment procedures affecting trade in goods (including telecommunications products) are non-discriminatory and do not create unnecessary obstacles to trade. The TBT Agreement strongly encourages that such regulatory measures be based on relevant international standards. The TBT Committee serves as a forum where governments discuss and address concerns with specific regulations, including those affecting digital trade. Examples of relevant TBT measures notified to or discussed at the TBT Committee include (1) measures addressing the internet of things (IoT) and related devices in terms of their safety, interoperability, national security/cybersecurity, performance, and quality; (2) measures regulating 5G cellular network technology for reasons related to, among others, national security and interoperability; (3) measures regulating 3D printing (additive manufacturing) devices; (4) measures regulating drones (small unmanned aircraft systems) due to risks for humans/consumers, interoperability problems, and national security risks; and (5) measures dealing with autonomous vehicles, mostly concerned with their safety and performance.

Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity issues have been addressed in several WTO bodies. For example, the TBT Committee has discussed national cybersecurity regulations applicable to information and communications technology (ICT) products and their potential impact on trade. In the TBT Committee, WTO members have raised specific trade concerns related to cybersecurity regulations. Some of the specific issues discussed include how cybersecurity regulations discriminating against foreign companies and technologies can negatively impact international trade in ICT products. Proposals on cybersecurity have also been tabled in the JSI on e-commerce where negotiations are ongoing.

Data governance

The growth of the global digital economy is fuelled by data. Discussions on how provisions of WTO agreements apply to data flows are ongoing among WTO members. In this context, is particularly relevant, as it applies to trade in services such as (1) data transmission and data processing by any form of technology (e.g. mobile or cloud technologies); (2) new ICT business models such as infrastructure as a service (IaaS); (3) online distribution services e.g. (e-commerce market platforms); and (4) financial services such as mobile payments. The extent to which members can impose restrictions on data or information flows affecting trade in services is determined by their GATS schedules of commitments. Under the JSI, proposals on cross-border data flows have been submitted and are being discussed. These proposals envision a general rule establishing the free flow of data for commercial activities. Proposed exceptions to this general rule are, to a large extent, similar to the existing GATS General and Security Exceptions and relate to, for example, protection of personal data, protection of legitimate public policy objectives, national security interests, and exclusion of governmental data. Issues related to data flows have also been raised by members in other contexts at the WTO, such as in the Council for Trade in Services, for instance, when national cybersecurity measures adopted have been considered by some members as trade barriers.

Intellectual property rights

The TRIPS Agreement is a key international instrument for the protection of IP and is of relevance to e-commerce. The technologies that underpin the internet and enable digital commerce such as software, routers, networks, switches, and user interfaces are protected by IP. In addition, e-commerce transactions can involve digital products with IP-protected content, such as e-books, software, or blueprints for 3D-printing. As IP licences often regulate the usage rights for such intangible digital products, the TRIPS Agreement and the international IP Conventions provide much of the legal infrastructure for digital trade.

These conventions include:

The role of IP in promoting innovation and trade in the digital age has been highlighted in recent WTO World Trade Reports.

IP-related issues are also being discussed in the JSI. Submitted proposals include text on limiting requests to the access or transfer of source code. The source code or the data analysis used in the operation of programmes or services is often legally protected by IP law through copyright, patent, or trade secret provisions. The main goal of the JSI proposals on access to source code is to prevent members from requiring access or transfer of the source code owned by a national of another member state as a condition for market access. Some exceptions to this general prohibition have also been proposed. For example, for software that is used for critical infrastructures and public procurement transactions.

Electronic commerce

WTO agreements cover a broad spectrum of trade topics, including some related to e-commerce, which has been on the WTO agenda since 1998 when the ministers adopted the Declaration on Global Electronic Commerce. The Declaration instructed the General Council to establish a Work Programme on electronic commerce. In that Declaration, members also agreed to continue the practice of not imposing customs duties on electronic transmissions (the ’moratorium’). The Work Programme provides a broad definition of e-commerce and instructs four WTO bodies (Council for Trade in Goods; Council for Trade in Services; TRIPS Council; and the Committee on Trade and Development) to explore the relationship between WTO Agreements and e-commerce. The Work Programme and the moratorium on customs duties on electronic transmissions have been periodically reviewed and renewed. At its recently concluded 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) in June 2022, WTO members agreed to reinvigorate the Work Programme, particularly in line with its development dimension, and to intensify discussions on the moratorium, including on its scope, definition, and impact. Furthermore, members agreed to extend the moratorium on customs duties on electronic transmissions until MC13 (2).

At MC11 in 2017, a group of members issued the Joint Statement Initiative (JSI) on E-Commerce to explore work towards future WTO negotiations on trade-related aspects of e-commerce. Following the exploratory work, in January 2019, 76 members confirmed their ‘intention to commence WTO negotiations on trade-related aspects of electronic commerce’ and to ‘achieve a high standard out- come that builds on existing WTO agreements and frameworks with the participation of as many WTO members as possible’. Negotiations are continuing among 87 members (3) and are structured under 6 broad themes, namely enabling e-commerce, openness and e-commerce, trust and e-commerce, cross-cutting issues, telecommunications, and market access. JSI participants have reached a high degree of convergence on e-authentication and e-signatures, e-contracts, open government data, online consumer protection, unsolicited commercial electronic messages (spam), transparency, open internet access and paperless trading. Negotiations on electronic transactions frameworks, source code, cybersecurity, electronic invoicing, privacy, telecommunications, and customs duties on electronic transmissions continue. On the margins of the MC12, the co-convenors of the JSI (Australia, Japan, and Singapore), issued a statement underlining the importance of developing global rules on e-commerce and, together with Switzerland, launched the E-commerce Capacity Building Framework to strengthen digital inclusion and to help developing and least developed countries to harness the opportunities of digital trade.

Access (4)

Information Technology Agreement (ITA-I and ITA-II)

The ITA-I was concluded by 29 participants in 1996. Through this agreement, participating WTO members eliminated tariffs and other duties and charges (ODCs) on hundreds of ICT products – including computers, laptops, servers, routers, communication devices (i.e. mobile telephones),  semiconductors, semiconductor manufacturing equipment and parts thereof – to foster the development of ICT global value chains and facilitate greater adoption of the ICT products that lie at the core of a global digital economy and power the downstream innovative and competitive capacity of every industry that deploys them. Currently, 83 WTO members are participants in ITA-I, accounting for approximately 97% of world trade in ITA-I products. As technology continues to evolve, ICT is found at the core of an ever-increasing range of products. At the MC10 in Nairobi in 2015, over 50 WTO members concluded ITA-II negotiations and agreed to expand the ITA product coverage by around 200 products. ICT products such as GPS navigation equipment, satellites, and medical equipment were included and tariffs on these products have been eliminated among ITA-II participants. At present, the ITA-II consists of 55 WTO members, representing over 90% of world trade in ITA-II products. The ITA is being discussed in the JSI under the market access focus group.

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1-The issue of digital standards is addressed as ‘standards and regulations’ within the work of WTO.

2-WT/MIN(22)/32; WT/L/1143

3-87 Members as of end of September 2022: Albania; Argentina; Australia; Austria; Bahrain, Kingdom of; Belgium; Benin; Brazil; Brunei Darussalam; Bulgaria; Burkina Faso; Cameroon; Canada; Chile; China; Colombia; Costa Rica; Côte D’Ivoire; Croatia; Cyprus; Czech Republic; Denmark; Ecuador; El Salvador; Estonia; Finland; France; Georgia; Germany; Greece; Guatemala;Honduras; Hong Kong, China; Hungary; Iceland; Indonesia; Ireland; Israel; Italy; Japan; Kazakhstan; Kenya; Korea, Republic of; Kuwait, the State of; Latvia; Lao People’s Democratic Republic; Liechtenstein; Lithuania; Luxembourg; Malaysia; Malta; Mauritius; Mexico; Moldova, Republic of; Mongolia; Montenegro; Myanmar; Netherlands; New Zealand; Nicaragua; Nigeria; North Macedonia; Norway; Panama; Paraguay; Peru; Philippines; Poland; Portugal; Qatar; Romania; Russian Federation; Saudi Arabia, Kingdom of; Singapore; Slovak Republic; Slovenia; Spain; Sweden; Switzerland; Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu; Thailand; Turkey; Ukraine; United Arab Emirates; United Kingdom; United States; and Uruguay

4-The issue of arbitration is referred to under the issue of ‘market access’ within the work of WTO.