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’.

International Trade Centre

Acronym: ITC

Established: 1964

Address: 54-56 rue de Montbrillant, Geneva, Switzerland

Website: https://www.intracen.org/

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

ITC  supports developing countries to achieve trade-led growth, fosters inclusive and sustainable economic development, and contributes to achieving sustainable development goals (SDGs).

ITC offers small businesses, policymakers, and business support organisations in developing countries an array of trade-related practical training and advisory services, and a wealth of business intelligence data. It helps micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) become more competitive and helps to create better regulatory environments for trade. ITC works to empower women, youth, and refugees through its programmes, projects, services, and data and helps drive digital connectivity and a global transition to green, sustainable trade.

Established in 1964, ITC is a multilateral agency with a joint mandate with the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the United Nations (UN) through the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

Digital activities

ITC activities in e-commerce and digital trade:

  • Focus on the digitalisation of trade and solving the constraints faced by MSMEs regarding the e-commerce of goods and services, at the enterprise, business ecosystem, and policy levels.
  • Develop small business digital capabilities and improves e-commerce accessibility in developing countries for sustainable and inclusive growth through its ecomConnect programme.
  • Support the development of a conducive policy and regulatory environment for e-commerce at the national, regional, and multilateral levels, including facilitating domestic policy reforms, informing policymakers on the needs of MSMEs in relation to e-commerce and digitalisation, and building capacity for e-commerce-related trade negotiations.
  • Support digital connectivity by improving telecommunications regulations and working with partners who provide access to technologies and services.
  • Improve business ecosystems by collaborating with market partners and equipping business service organisations (BSOs) with the capacity to support MSMEs in the digital economy.

ITC is one of the co-facilitators of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) action lines in the area of e-business, as well as a partner agency in UNCTAD’s e-trade for all initiative.

Digital policy issues

E-commerce and trade

ITC provides capacity building for policymakers on current issues in the e-commerce policy debate through training, workshops, and publications contributing to a conducive policy environment for e-commerce and digital trade. ITC projects also support developing countries in reviewing and updating e-commerce-related regulations and building capacity for effective implementation of policy reforms.

ITC assists enterprises, in particular MSMEs, in acquiring the necessary skills and capabilities to trade on e-commerce channels. Through the ecomConnect programme, it is engaged in the sustainable development of small businesses online by facilitating shared learning, innovative solutions, collaboration, and partnerships.

ITC’s e-commerce tools help MSMEs assess the readiness of their business to engage in international e-commerce,   understand the options and costs of selling on e-commerce platforms, find available payment solutions, and track sales and site traffic across different e-commerce platforms in a single dashboard.

ITC’s digital entrepreneurship projects also support developing countries and MSMEs to build competitiveness in the rapidly growing global information technology and business process outsourcing markets.

Capacity development

ITC’s SME Trade Academy offers a series of online courses and access to educational material on an array of trade topics. It aims to assist SMEs, policymakers, and BSOs in building skills for trade development.

ITC also offers training for policymakers on building a conducive environment for e-commerce and engaging in negotiations on e-commerce and digital trade.

Digital tools

ITC addresses the challenge of a lack of reliable trade information on markets by offering market analysis tools and related market data sources. The Global Trade Helpdesk provides a one-stop shop for detailed information about imports, market dynamics, tariffs, regulatory requirements, potential buyers and more.

ITC market intelligence tools provide users with export and import statistics from more than 220 countries and territories and consist of the following: Trade Map, Market Access Map, Investment Map, Procurement Map, Export Potential Map, and Sustainability Map.

The ecomConnect community platform, managed by the ITC’s ecomConnect programme, links entrepreneurs, industry experts, and business support institutions in e-commerce to build up connections; acquire digital expertise through free online courses, e-commerce tools, and live webinars; and discuss the latest e-commerce news. The community brings together more than 5,000 active users from sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, Central Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

In addition, the ITC library offers a specialised information resource on international trade as well as its online catalogue, which is available to all users.

Future of meetings

See the ITC news and events page.

Social media channels

Facebook @InternationalTradeCentre

Instagram @internationaltradecentre

LinkedIn @@international-trade-centre

Twitter @ITCnews

YouTube @International Trade Centre

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 researches key policy development issues and supports developing countries to effectively participate in international negotiating processes that are relevant to achieving 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 cooperation (SSC), financing for development, innovation and intellectual property, traditional knowledge, access to medicines, health, biodiversity, trade, investment agreements, international tax cooperation, human rights, gender, and the fourth industrial revolution.

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

The South Centre has observer status in several international organisations.

Digital activities

Innovation and development is one of the issue areas 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 fourth 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

Intellectual property rights

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.

In September 2020, the South Centre published a research paper on Data in Legal Limbo: Ownership, Sovereignty, or a Digital Public Goods Regime? and in 2022, a research paper on The Liability of Internet Service Providers for Copyright Infringement in Sri Lanka: A Comparative Analysis.

Additional research will be published on IP and digital-related topics in the coming year.

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 explores 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 highlights 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. Another analytical note published that same year tackles the impact of the digital economy on micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), and looks into the type of e-commerce rules that could best serve the interests of MSMEs.

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

In 2019, it addressed issues on the regulation of the digital economy in developing countries, namely, the future of work, market dynamics, and data and privacy protection.

The South Centre recently published a research paper on the WTO Moratorium on Customs Duties on Electronic Transmissions. This paper highlights the adverse impacts of the continuing moratorium on developing and least developed countries. Because of the moratorium, almost all developing and least developed countries are losing tariff revenues at a time when they are most needed. With no clarity on the definition of electronic transmissions and thereby on the scope of the moratorium, its continuation can lead to substantive tariff revenue losses for developing and least developed countries in the future.

The South Centre recently issued a statement on the landmark shift of the US Trade Representative’s decision to rein in the Big Tech digital trade agenda under the E-Commerce Joint Statement Initiative (JSI) negotiations.

The South Centre also monitors developments and participates in discussions in the field and across international organisations in Geneva, including the UNCTAD eTrade for All initiative.

In 2022, the South Centre organised/co-organised two sessions during UNCTAD eCommerce week: Data Regulation: Implications for the Digitization of the Economy and Development and Exploring a Global Framework for Data Governance. The South Centre Executive Director also participated in the eTrade for All Leadership Dialogue. See the Centre’s contribution here.

Taxation

The taxation of the digital economy is the single biggest issue in international taxation today. Countries around the world are trying to find solutions for taxing Big Tech companies that operate with very different business models owing to which they are able to escape taxation under outdated international tax rules meant for a brick-and-mortar economy. The key solution being negotiated is known as Amount A of Pillar One of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)’s Two Pillar solution. The South Centre has been actively involved in Amount A negotiations, briefing its member states and submitting comments on every single set of Model Rules that have been put out for public comment, articulating the concerns and issues of developing countries. In 2022, we published the world’s first set of country-level revenue estimates on Amount A contrasted with the UN solution of Article 12B of the UN Model Tax Convention. The revenue estimates were published for the member states of the South Centre and the African Union, with whom the study was jointly conducted. We are coming up with a revised set of revenue estimates based on the latest version of Amount A for our member states and these will be released in late 2023. In October 2023, we published another Policy Brief titled Beyond the Two Pillar Proposals: A Simplified Approach for Taxing Multinationals, which offers an alternative policy solution different from those of the UN and the OECD.

We also published a Policy Brief in June 2023 titled Taxation of Digital Services: What hope for the African States? which argues that African countries need to improve digital connectivity to be able to collect more taxes under the OECD digital tax solution of Amount A. This is because the revenue sourcing rules of Amount A allocate profits using digital indicators such as viewing of advertisements, IP addresses, etc.

In the UN Tax Committee, we participated in the 26th Session in New York where we mobilised the developing country members through peer exchanges and briefings and also participated in the negotiations to promote the interests of our member states and other developing countries, inter alia, on the taxation of the digital economy. 

Ahead of the UN Tax Committee session, we published a study on the taxation of computer software. The study on computer software showed that 34 of the South Centre’s member states could have collected $1 billion in taxes in 2020 from computer software sales had there been the corresponding standards by the UN. The Brief helped mobilise developing country support and bring to a close a 20-year negotiation on the taxation of computer software.

We also published a Policy Brief titled Conceptualizing Remote Worker Permanent Establishment, which provided an innovative solution for taxing the emerging phenomenon of Work From Home/Work From Anywhere. 

The UNCTAD Intergovernmental Group of Experts on the Digital Economy invited the South Centre to present to UN member states the policy options for taxing the digital economy. Our presentation was so appreciated that the governments of Palestine and Cambodia immediately requested capacity building on the subject.

Given our expertise in the taxation of the digital economy, we co-organised in June 2023 a Group of Twenty (G20)-South Centre event on international taxation. This was on capacity building for Indian tax officials on the Two Pillar solution and the international tax standards being negotiated in the UN. This was also our first G20 event, and was widely praised and appreciated by the Indian participants. We mobilised international tax experts from across Asia, Africa, and Latin America to share their perspectives on these topics with Indian officials.

We partnered with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to co-organise a Capacity Building Workshop on the taxation of the digital economy in May 2023. The two organisations shared the policy options available to Sri Lanka to tax the digital economy, which included a Digital Services Tax. The workshop was so impactful that within a few days the government introduced a digital services tax and in the record time of two months got it passed by Parliament. We remained engaged and provided technical briefs to the Sri Lankan Parliament, particularly the Finance Committees.

We were also invited to participate in the Addis Tax Initiative (ATI) General Assembly in Zambia where we provided capacity building on ATI member states on the taxation of the digital economy. After the workshop, the Finance Ministry of Zambia reached out to the South Centre Tax Initiative (SCTI) for detailed policy advice.

Multiple news channels and agencies regularly solicit the South Centre’s views on the concerns of the developing countries in international tax negotiations on the taxation of the digital economy.

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, 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)) 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 looks 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 provides 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 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 the 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 goes on to propose a strategic framework for responding to the fourth industrial revolution, which focuses on capacity building, technology incubations, scientific development, and policymaking.

Discussions towards the adoption of a Global Digital Compact (GDC) have been included as one of the proposals made by the United Nations Secretary-General (UNSG) in his report Our Common Agenda (A/75/982). The main objective of this proposal is “to protect the online space and strengthen its governance” based on “shared principles for an open, free and secure digital future for all”. The issue of digital governance is quite complex and includes the need to reaffirm the fundamental commitment to connecting the unconnected; avoiding fragmentation of the internet; providing people with options as to how their data is used; applying human rights online; and promoting the regulation of AI. 

The need to guarantee the implementation of human rights online requires that discussions leading towards the GDC are conducted with upmost transparency, public disclosure, and accountability. Likewise, the private IT sector must respect human rights, apply human rights due diligence and increased accountability, and allow broader oversight from the state and civil society. In some instances, public-private partnerships (PPPs) can be a useful tool to support an inclusive digital transformation, but public participation and oversight of PPPs, guided by strong principles of transparency and the protection and respect for human rights, are necessary to support the transfer of technology, skills, and knowledge needed to promote an inclusive digital transformation. The South Centre has actively engaged with other partners to strengthen multilateralism in this process and to limit the detrimental impacts of multistakeholderism in global governance.  

The South Centre combines expertise in global matters of governance in the discussion of the GDC with the objective of strengthening multilateralism through an intergovernmental process that protects the voices of developing and least-developed countries. We prepared a submission to the GDC on applying Human Rights Online. In addition, our forthcoming research paper considers the discussion on the GDC, the current fragmentation of digital governance from the perspective of developing countries, and the need to increase international cooperation directed towards digital transformation, while highlighting the need to address climate change, the protection of human rights, and inclusiveness as the most relevant issues for developing countries today. 

In light of the global health pandemic, the South Centre, as part of its publication series South Views, shared the perspectives of developing countries on digital health. its challenges and recommendations to overcome these, and harnessing digital technology for education in developing countries, A SouthViews on Access to Medical Equipment in a Pandemic Situation: Importance of Localized Supply Chains and 3D Printing was also published.

In 2020 and 2021, a SouthViews on Technology and Inequality: Can We Decolonise the Digital World?, on Digital Transformation: Prioritizing Data Localization, and An Introduction to the UN Technology Bank for the Least Developed Countries were also published.

A Public Health Approach to Intellectual Property Rights is a virtual help desk on the use of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) flexibilities for public health purposes.

The South Centre has general and specific emailing lists and is moving to institutionally become a paperless organisation.

Future of meetings

In the COVID-19 global pandemic, the South Centre has increasingly used Zoom and Microsoft Teams for online meetings and webinars.

See meetings that the South Centre has organised at https://www.southcentre.int/category/events/the-south-centre-events and https://ipaccessmeds.southcentre.int/ event/ and https://taxinitiative.southcentre.int/event/

Social media channels

Facebook @South Centre

Instagram @southcentre_gva

LinkedIn @South Centre, Geneva

X @South_Centre

YouTube @SouthCentre GVA

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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Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies

Acronym: Geneva Graduate Institute

Established: 1927

Address: Case postale 1672, 1211 Geneva, Switzerland

Website: https://www.graduateinstitute.ch

The Geneva Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (Geneva Graduate Institute) is an institution of research and higher education at the postgraduate level dedicated to the study of world affairs, with a particular emphasis on the cross-cutting fields of international relations and development issues.

Through its core activities, the Institute promotes international cooperation and contributes to the progress of developing societies. More broadly, it endeavours to develop creative thinking on the major challenges of our time, foster global responsibility, and advance respect for diversity.

By intensely engaging with international organisations, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), governments, and multinational companies, the Institute participates in global discussions and prepares future policymakers to lead tomorrow’s world.

In 2022, the Institute launched a new Competence Hub on digital technologies. The Tech Hub brings together a diversity of internal and external expertise to explore technologies from a human-centred and human-biotype-centred perspective. The focus will be the exploration of current and future technological innovations from a social science perspective, with an interest in the socio-political, governance, and geopolitical consequences of the current technological revolution. It will progressively structure different kinds of activities as well as welcome and foster research projects.

This transdisciplinary and horizontal initiative enables the Institute to forge and express its own unique voice on the digital turn and its consequences. It has indeed a particular role to play in the exploration of all those questions that need a transdisciplinary social science and humanities perspective and are by nature profoundly inter-transnational. The reality is that the Institute is already producing research and knowledge on those questions and diffusing them through teaching and events.

Digital activities

As part of its main strategy, the Institute seeks to develop digitally driven innovation in teaching and research, as well as information technology (IT) services. At the same time, as a research institution focusing on global challenges and their impacts, the digital turn has become one of its fundamental and policy-oriented research areas.

In terms of research, a growing number of researchers and PhD candidates analyse the impact of digitalisation on international relations and development issues. A few examples of research topics are cybersecurity, hybrid threats and warfare, surveillance technologies, internet governance, digital diplomacy, digital health, digital rights, digital trust, digital economy, the future of work, blockchain and cryptocurrencies, AI and humanitarian law, and AI and peace negotiations among others. The Institute has also developed expertise in using digital technologies as new research methods, including computational social scientific methods and big data analytics.

In terms of teaching, its Master, PhD, and executive education courses are increasingly focused on the effects of digitalisation on society and the economy, and more generally the global system. Some examples of courses are Digital Approaches to Conflict Prevention, Digital Innovation in Nature Conservation, Internet, Technology and International Law, Introduction to Digital Social Science Research, Technology, Society and Decision- making, The Politics of Digital Design, AI and Politics, Internet Governance and Economics, Technology and Development, and Digital Diplomacy and Power Relations on Cyberspace. Digital skills workshops are also organised for students to provide them with basic digital competence for their future professional or academic life, including big data analysis, introduction to programming with R and Python, and data analysis in various contexts.

The Institute is now involved in the development of a doctoral school on Digital Studies. This is a partnership with University of Lausanne (UNIL), École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), University of Geneva (UNIGE), University of Neuchâtel (UNINE), and University of Fribourg (UNIFR) and will be hosted by CUSO (Conférence Universitaire de Suisse Occidentale). As part of its membership of SwissUniversities, it also offers a very complete programme for doctoral students – Strengthening Digital Skills in Education. Launched in 2019, the second phase of that programme runs from 2021 to 2024.

Over the years, the Institute has developed a performing IT infrastructure with secured data storage space and digital platforms (e.g. Campus, Moodle, TurntIn, Zoom, MyHR, Salesforces, Converis) to provide seamless services as well as dematerialised/paperless processes (e.g. student applications, course registration) for students, staff, and professors.

The Institute has developed digital tools (e.g. app for students, responsive website) and used digital services (e.g. social media, Facebook, Google ads) for many years in its student recruitment and communication campaigns.

Digital tools are also part of the pedagogical methods to improve learning. Flipped classrooms, MOOCs, SPOCs, and podcasts, to name a few, are used by professors in Master’s and PhD programmes, as well as in executive education. The Institute also supports professors in developing pedagogical skills and in using digital tools. Workshops are offered to all faculty members at the end of the summer to prepare them for hybrid teaching and the use of new technological tools in the classroom.

The Institute also organises workshops, seminars, film screenings, and other events on the digital turn, ranging from the digital divide and the governance and regulatory aspects of data to cybersecurity.

Digital policy issues

Some of the Institute’s prominent research initiatives are listed under respective digital policy issues sections.

Artificial intelligence

Conflict and peacebuilding

The faculty carries out a number of digital policy-related research projects, some of which focus on AI in particular. For example, the project titled Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS) and War Crimes: Who is to Bear Responsibility? aims to clarify whether and to what extent the requirements for ascribing criminal responsibility for the commission of an act – and in particular the key concepts of culpability theories – can be applied to the use of LAWS in combat operations. This analysis will serve to identify lacunae and inconsistencies in the current legal framework in the face of the advent of military robotics.

This project explores how the increasing digitalisation of peace processes affects international peace building efforts that take place in a global environment characterised by friction between liberal and authoritarian approaches. To make sense of these dynamics, the project draws on the concept of apomediation, to suggest that solutions to conflict are no longer simply supplied by human agents, but through a complex entanglement of human-machine networks.

The Intrepid Project aims to develop a general understanding of how policy announcements by state agencies are interpreted by journalists in ways that send signals, indicate intent, and otherwise provoke economic and political reactions. Machine learning (ML) techniques and the semantic and syntactic properties of announcement texts are then used to develop models of the announcement interpretation process.

Global Health

A number of projects carried out by the Institute’s members address the relationship between digital technologies and health. For instance, the Modelling Early Risk Indicators to Anticipate Malnutrition (MERIAM) project uses computer models to test and scale up cost effective means to improve the prediction and monitoring of undernutrition in difficult contexts.

The Institute hosts the new Digital Health and AI Research Collaborative (I-DAIR) directed by former Ambassador of India and Visiting Lecturer at the Institute Amandeep Gill. I-DAIR aims to create a platform to promote responsible and inclusive AI research and digital technology development for health. This platform is supported by the Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator (GESDA).

The project Governing Health Futures 2030: Growing up in a Digital World, hosted at the Global Health Centre (GHC), explores how to ensure that digital development helps improve the health and well-being of all, and especially among children and young people. It focuses on examining integrative policies for digital health, AI, and universal health coverage to support the attainment of the third sustainable development goal (SDG).

Democracy

Questions about the potential impact of the internet are now routinely raised in relation to political events and elections in most places. The project on the Digital Infrastructuring of Democracy asks how the digital infrastructuring of democracy unfolds through regulatory and political processes, with a heuristic focus on both its transnational dimension and its specific reverberations in democracies of the Global South. The project concentrates on one thematic controversy related to each aspect of infrastructure: the accountability of algorithms for code, data protection for content, and encryption for circulation.

Taking stock of the centrality of AI in society and in the citizen-government relation, this project hosted at the Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy seeks to engage with youth in Switzerland to explore the future role of AI in democracy through storytelling and narrative foresight. It will give a voice to the citizens of tomorrow and collaborate with art schools to design participatory AI art.

Future of work

Focusing on the Global South, the project African Futures: Digital Labor and Blockchain Technology strengthens empirical knowledge on changing trends in employment in the region by way of a two-pronged approach to the increasingly interconnected global division of labour: (1) App-based work mediated by online service platforms and (2) the use of blockchain technology in mining sites for ethical sourcing, traceability, and proof of origin.

The emergence of AI and digitally mediated work represents a fundamental challenge for most developing economies. Coupled with jobless economic growth, rising human productivity, and the exponential increase of the available labourpool, few jobs can be said to be safe from automated labour. This project examines the impact of digital work and automation in the Global South, from blockchain technology to ride-sharing apps, to inform debates on automation, computerisation and non-standard forms of work.

Inclusive finance

Projects carried out by the Institute’s members also address the role of digital technologies in enhancing financial inclusion. The project Effects of Digital Economy on Banking and Finance studies digital innovations and how fintech extends financial services to firms and households and improves credit allocation using loan-account level data comparing fintech and traditional banking.

Digital tools

  • Digital collections that allow free access to historical documents, texts, and photographs on international relations from the sixteenth to the twentieth century.
  • Two free online courses (MOOCs) on globalisation and global governance.
  • Podcasts showcasing professors’ and guests’ expertise (What matters today, In conversation with, Parlons en).
  • Podcasts are also integrated into the curricula of several international histories and interdisciplinary Master’s courses to encourage students to use social network platforms to popularise their findings.

Future of meetings

Events, sessions, and seminars are held online (usually on Zoom), for example, information sessions for admitted and prospective students take place online.

Social media channels

Facebook @graduateinstitute

Instagram @graduateinstitute

LinkedIn @geneva graduate institute

Twitter @GVAGrad

YouTube @Geneva Graduate Institute

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development

Acronym: UNCTAD

Established: 1964

Address: Palais des Nations, Av. de la Paix 8-14, 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Website: https://unctad.org/

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) is a UN body dedicated to supporting developing countries in accessing the benefits of a globalised economy more fairly and effectively. It provides analysis, facilitates consensus-building, and offers technical assistance, thus helping countries use trade, investment, finance, and technology to support inclusive and sustainable development.

UNCTAD also works to facilitate and measure progress towards achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs), through a wide range of activities in areas such as technology and innovation, trade, investment, environment, transport and logistics, and the digital economy.

UNCTAD’s work often results in analyses and recommendations that can inform national and international policy-making processes, and contribute to promoting economic policies aimed at ending global economic inequalities and generating human-centric sustainable development.

Digital Activities

UNCTAD is particularly active in the field of e-commerce, trade, and the digital economy, carrying out a wide range of activities from research and analysis to providing assistance to member states in developing adequate legislative frameworks and facilitating international dialogue on the development opportunities and challenges associated with the digital economy. UNCTAD also works to facilitate and measure progress towards achieving the SDGs, in particular through (but not limited to) its activities in the field of science, technology, and innovation (STI) for development. Consumer protection, gender equality, and privacy and data protection are other digital policy areas where UNCTAD is active.

Digital policy issues

E-commerce and trade 

UNCTAD’s work programme on e-commerce and the digital economy (ECDE Programme), encompasses several research and analysis, consensus building and technical assistance activities, as follows:

Research and analysis

UNCTAD conducts research and analysis on e-commerce and the digital economy and their implications for trade and development. These are mainly presented in its flagship publication, the Digital Economy Report (known as Information Economy Report until 2017), and in its Technical Notes on ICT for Development.

Consensus building on e-commerce and digital economy policies

UNCTAD’s Intergovernmental Group of Experts on E-commerce and the Digital Economy meets regularly to discuss ways to strengthen the development dimension of e-commerce and the digital economy. The group’s meetings are usually held in conjunction with the eCommerce Week, an annual event hosted by UNCTAD and featuring discussions on development opportunities and challenges associated with the digital economy.

E-Commerce assessments and strategy formulation

The eTrade Readiness Assessments (eT Readies) assist least developed countries (LDCs) and other developing countries in understanding their e-commerce readiness in key policy areas in order to better engage in and benefit from e-commerce. The assessments provide recommendations to overcome identified barriers and bottlenecks to growth and enjoying the benefits of digital trade.

UNCTAD’s work on information and communication technology (ICT) policy reviews and national e-commerce strategies involves technical assistance, advisory services, diagnostics, and strategy development on e-commerce, and national ICT planning at the request of governments. Through an analysis of the infrastructural, policy, regulatory, institutional, operational, and socioeconomic landscape, the reviews help governments to overcome weaknesses and bureaucratic barriers, leverage strengths and opportunities, and put in place relevant strategies.

Legal frameworks for e-commerce

UNCTAD’s E-commerce and Law Reform work helps to develop an understanding of the legal issues underpinning e-commerce through a series of capacity-building workshops for policymakers at the national and regional levels. Concrete actions include: Assistance in establishing domestic and regional legal regimes to enhance trust in online transactions, regional studies on cyber laws harmonisation, and the global mapping of e-commerce legislation through its ‘Global Cyberlaw Tracker’.

Measuring the information economy

UNCTAD’s work on measuring the information economy includes statistical data collection and the development of methodology, as well as linking statistics and policy through the Working Group on Measuring E-commerce and the Digital Economy, established by the Intergovernmental Group of Experts on E-Commerce and the Digital Economy. Figures are published in the biennial Digital Economy Report and the statistics portal UNCTADstat. Technical co-operation here aims to strengthen the capacity of national statistical systems to produce better, more reliable, and internationally comparable statistics on the following issues: ICT use by enterprises, size and composition of the ICT sector, and e-commerce and international trade in ICT-enabled services. UNCTAD also produces the B2C E-commerce Index which measures an economy’s preparedness to support online shopping.

Smart Partnerships through eTrade for all

The eTrade for all initiative (eT4a) is a global collaborative effort of 32 partners to scale up co-operation, transparency, and aid efficiency towards more inclusive e-commerce. Its main tool is an online platform (etradeforall.org), a knowledge-sharing and information hub that facilitates access to a wide range of information and resources on e-commerce and the digital economy. It offers a gateway for matching the suppliers of technical assistance with those in need. Beneficiaries can connect with potential partners, learn about trends, best practices, up-to-date e-commerce indicators, and upcoming events all in one place. The initiative also acts as catalyst of partnership among its members for increased synergies. This collaboration has concretely translated into the participation of several eT4a partners as key contributors to the various eCommerce Weeks organised by UNCTAD and in the conduct and review of eTrade Readiness Assessments.

Consumer protection 

Through its Competition and Consumer Policies Programme, UNCTAD works to assist countries in improving their competition and consumer protection policies. It provides a forum for intergovernmental deliberations on these issues, undertakes research, policy analysis and data collection, and provides technical assistance to developing countries. The Intergovernmental Group of Experts on Consumer Protection Law and Policy monitors the implementation of the UN Guidelines for Consumer Protection and carries out research and provides technical assistance on consumer protection issues (including in the context of e-commerce and the digital economy).

UNCTAD’s work programme on consumer protection is guided, among others, by the UN Conference of Competition and Consumer Protection (held every five years). In 2020, the conference will hold high-level consultations on strengthening consumer protection and competition in the digital economy, and international enforcement co-operation among consumer protection authorities in electronic commerce.

Given the significant imbalances in market power in the digital economy, competition policy is becoming increasingly relevant for developing countries. UNCTAD addresses this issue in the Intergovernmental Group of Experts on Competition Law and Policy.

UNCTAD also runs the Research Partnership Platform, aimed at contributing to the development of best practices in the formulation and implementation of competition and consumer protection laws and policies.

Sustainable development 

UNCTAD works to facilitate and measure progress towards achieving the SDGs, in particular through (but not limited to) its activities in the field of STI for development. The organisation supports countries in their efforts to integrate STI in national development strategies, through initiatives such as Science, Technology and Innovation Policy Reviews and capacity building programmes (such as the Innovation Policy Learning Programme). The eT4a initiative is also intended to contribute to several SDGs, especially in relation to decent work and economic growth, innovation and infrastructure, global partnerships, and gender equality. Moreover, UNCTAD’s SDG Pulse offers statistical information on developments related to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

UNCTAD’s Investment Policy Framework for Sustainable Development provides guidance for policymakers in formulating national investment policies and in negotiating investment agreements. The organisation is also part of the Toolbox for Financing for SDGs – a platform launched in 2018 at the initiative of the President of the UN General Assembly to assist countries and financial actors in exploring solutions to the challenges of financing the SDGs.

UNCTAD carries out research and analysis work covering various development-related issues, examples being its Digital Economy Report and the Technical notes on ICT for development. As the body responsible for servicing the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CTSD), UNCTAD also assists the CSTD in its sustainable development-related work, for instance by preparing studies and reports on issues such as the impact of advanced technologies on sustainable development.

Other UNCTAD activities designed to contribute to sustainable development cover issues such as climate change, the circular economy, and intellectual property.

Capacity development 

Many activities undertaken by UNCTAD have a capacity development dimension. For instance, its work on e-commerce and trade includes supporting developing countries in establishing adequate legal frameworks in these areas (e.g. its eCommerce and Law Reform work) and in producing statistics that can guide effective policy-making (e.g. the Measuring E-commerce and the Digital Economy activities and the ICT Policy Reviews ). UNCTAD’s E-Learning on Trade platform provides courses and training on issues such as trade, gender and development and non-tariff measures in trade.

UNCTAD also works to build capacity in STI policy-making in developing countries, through initiatives such as the Innovation Policy Learning programme and STI training provided in the context of the P166 programme.

Additionally, UNCTAD’s Virtual Institute – run in co-operation with universities worldwide – is dedicated to building knowledge for trade and development. Another area where UNCTAD provides capacity building for developing countries is that of statistics: The organisation and its partners assist national statistics organisations in the collection, compilation and dissemination of their statistics in domains such as trade, sustainable development, and investments.

Gender rights online 

UNCTAD runs a Trade, Gender and Development Programme dedicated to assisting countries in developing and implementing gender-sensitive trade policies, conducting gender impact analyses of trade policies and agreements, and strengthening the links between trade and gender. One notable initiative is the eTrade for Women initiative, dedicated to advancing the empowerment of women through ICTs.

Other initiatives undertaken in this area include capacity building on trade and gender, the Women in STEM: Changing the narrative dialogues, and the  Data and statistics for more gender-responsive trade policies in Africa, the Caucasus and Central Asia project.

Data governance? 

As data has become a key resource in the digital economy, data governance is a fundamental part of the work of UNCTAD. This is illustrated, for example, in the research and analysis work of the Digital Economy Report 2019, which focused on the role of data as the source of value in the digital economy and how it is created and captured. Moreover, some of UNCTAD’s work on e-commerce and digital trade touches specifically on privacy and data protection issues. For instance, the eCommerce and Law Reform work dedicated to supporting developing countries in their efforts to establish adequate legal frameworks for e-commerce also covers data protection and privacy among the key issues addressed. The Global Cyberlaw Trackers offers information on data protection laws in UNCTAD member states.

Also relevant for data governance discussions is UNCTAD’s work on statistics, as the organisation collects and analyses a wide range of data on issues such as economic trends, international trade, population, and the digital economy. Moreover, UNCTAD’s SDG Pulse offers statistical information on developments related to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

UNCTAD is also running several projects focused on improving the efficiency of data management in the context of activities such as maritime trade (e.g. the Digitising Global Maritime Trade project) and customs operations (e.g. the Automated System for Customs Data).

Digital tools

 UNCTAD has developed several digital tools and online platforms in recent years. Examples include:

Future of meetings

Any reference to online or remote meetings?

Any reference to deliberation or decision making online?

Internet Governance Forum

Acronym: IGF

Established: 2006

Address: Palais des Nations, 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Website: https://www.intgovforum.org

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The IGF provides the most comprehensive coverage of digital policy issues on the global level. The IGF Secretariat in Geneva coordinates both the planning of IGF annual meetings (working together with the Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) and the wider IGF community) and a series of intersessional activities (run all year long). These activities could be summarised in three ‘multi’ initiatives:

  • Multistakeholder participation: It involves governments, business, civil society, the technical community, academia, and other actors who affect or are affected by digital policy This diversity is reflected in IGF processes, events, and consultations.
  • Multidisciplinary coverage: It relates to addressing policy issues from technological, legal, security, human rights, economic, development, and sociocultural perspectives. For example, data, as a governance issue, is addressed from standardisation, e-commerce, privacy, and security perspectives.
  • Multilevel approach: It spans IGF deliberations from the local level to the global level, through a network of over 150 national, subregional, and regional IGF They provide context for discussions on digital policy like the real-life impact of digitalisation on policy, economic, social, and cultural fabric of local communities. The IGF Secretariat supports such initiatives (which are independent) and coordinates the participation of the overall network.

The IGF ecosystem converges around the annual IGF, which is attended by thousands of participants. The last few IGFs include Paris (2018), Berlin (2019), online edition due to the pandemic (2020), and Katowice (2021), involving over 10,000 participants, more than 1,000 speakers in over 300 sessions.

The intersessional work includes best practice forums (on issues such as cybersecurity, local content, data and new technologies, and gender and access); dynamic coalitions (on issues such as community connectivity, network neutrality, accessibility and disability, and child safety online etc.); policy networks (on environment, meaningful access and Internet fragmentation); and other projects such as Policy Options for Connecting and Enabling the Next Billion(s) (which ran between 2015 and 2018) as well as a number of capacity development activities.

IGF mandate

The IGF mandate was outlined in the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS, November 2005). It was renewed for another 10 years by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on 16 December 2015, (70/125).

The main functions of the IGF are specified in Article 72 of the Tunis Agenda. The mandate of the Forum is to:

  • Discuss public policy issues related to key elements of Internet governance in order to foster the sustainability, robustness, security, stability, and development of the internet.
  • Facilitate discourse between bodies dealing with different cross-cutting international public policies regarding the internet and discuss issues that do not fall within the scope of any existing body.
  • Interface with appropriate inter-governmental organisations and other institutions on matters under their purview.
  • Facilitate the exchange of information and best practices, and in this regard, make full use of the expertise of the academic, scientific, and technical communities.
  • Advise all stakeholders in proposing ways and means to accelerate the availability and affordability of the Internet in the developing world.
  • Strengthen and enhance the engagement of stakeholders in existing and/or future internet governance mechanisms, particularly those from developing countries.
  • Identify emerging issues, bring them to the attention of the relevant bodies and the general public, and where appropriate, make recommendations.
  • Contribute to capacity building for internet governance in developing countries, drawing on local sources of knowledge and expertise.
  • Promote and assess, on an ongoing basis, the embodiment of WSIS principles in internet governance processes.
  • Discuss, inter alia, issues relating to critical internet resources.
  • Help to find solutions to the issues arising from the use and misuse of the internet, of particular concern to everyday users.
  • Publish its proceedings.

In fulfilling its mandate, the Forum is institutionally supported by the UN Secretariat for the Internet Governance Forum placed with the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA). Its working modalities also include MAG and most recently the Leadership Panel, both appointed by the UN Secretary-General.

Digital policy issues

Until 2019, IGF annual meetings used to host sessions tackling a wide range of digital policy issues (for instance, IGF 2018 had eight themes: cybersecurity, trust, and privacy; development, innovation, and economic issues; digital inclusion and accessibility; human rights, gender, and youth; emerging technologies; evolution of internet governance; media and content; and technical and operational issues). In 2019, in an effort to bring more focus within the IGF, the MAG decided (considering community input) to structure the IGF programme around a limited number of tracks: security, safety, stability, and resilience; data governance; and digital inclusion. This approach was kept for IGF 2020, which saw four thematic tracks: data, environment, inclusion, and trust. The thematic approach did not mean that the IGF saw some digital policy issues as being less relevant than others, but rather that it encouraged discussions at the intersection of multiple issues. The Geneva Internet Platform (GIP) Digital Watch reporting for IGF 2020 and IGF 2019 illustrates this trend, showing that the IGF discussed a wide range of policy issues (across all seven internet governance baskets of issues) within the limited number of thematic tracks.

The leadership panel

In line with the IGF mandate and as recommended in the Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, the UN Secretary-General established the IGF Leadership Panel as a strategic, empowered, multistakeholder body, to address urgent, strategic issues, and highlight Forum discussions and possible follow-up actions to promote greater impact and dissemination of IGF discussions.

More specifically, the Panel provides strategic inputs and advice on the IGF; promotes the IGF and its outputs; supports both high-level and at-large stakeholder engagement in the IGF and IGF fundraising efforts; exchanges IGF outputs with other stakeholders and relevant forums; and feeds input from these decision-makers and forums to the IGF’s agenda-setting process, leveraging relevant MAG expertise.

The 10-member Panel meets at least three times a year.

Future of meetings

Since its first meeting in Athens (2006), the IGF has been a pioneer in online deliberation and hybrid meetings. In addition to individual online participation, the IGF has encouraged the development of a network of remote hubs where participants meet locally while following online deliberations from the global IGF. In this way the IGF has created a unique interplay between local and global deliberations through the use of technology. For hybrid meetings delivered in situ and online, the IGF developed the function of remote moderator, who ensures that there is smooth interplay between online and in situ discussions.

Social media channels

Facebook @IGF – Internet Governance Forum
Instagram @intgovforum
Twitter @intgovforum
YouTube @Internet Governance Forum (IGF)

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.

Social medial channels

Facebook @WorldTradeOrganization

Flickr @WorldTradeOrganization

Instagram @worldtradeorganization

Twitter @wto

YouTube @WorldTradeOrganization

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.



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