The South Centre

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

Website: https://southcentre.int

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

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

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

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

Digital Activities

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

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

Digital policy issues

Sustainable development 

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

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

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

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

E-commerce and trade 

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

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

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

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

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

Taxation 

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

Intellectual property rights 

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

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

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

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

Digital Tools

A Public Health Approach to Intellectual Property Rights’: a virtual help desk on the use of Trade-related aspects of Intellectual property Rights (TRIPS) flexibilities for public health purposes A Public Health Approach to Intellectual Property Rights’: a virtual help desk on the use of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) flexibilities for public health purposes https://ipaccessmeds.southcentre.int/

South Centre Tax Initiative: https://taxinitiative.southcentre.int/

Social Media: Twitter: @South_Centre ; YouTube: SouthCentre GVA; Flickr: South Centre; LinkedIn

The South Centre has a general and specific e-mailing lists.

Future of Meetings

Any reference to online or remote meetings?

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

The South Centre organised a webinar on ‘The COVID-19 Pandemic: Intellectual Property Management for Access to Diagnostics, Medicines and Vaccines’ and a series of webinars on COVID-19 and development, which are as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

World Trade Organization

Acronym: WTO

Address: Rue de Lausanne 154, 1202 Genève, Switzerland

Website: https://wto.org

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The World Trade Organization (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 co-operation 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 the WTO. These include e-commerce, intellectual property (IP), and market access for information and communication technology (ICT) ICT products and services. E-commerce discussions are ongoing under the Work Programme on Electronic Commerce and among a group of members currently negotiating e-commerce rules under the Joint Statement on E-commerce. Discussions focus on several digital issues, including: data flows and data localisation; access to source code; cybersecurity; privacy; consumer protection; and customs duties on electronic transmissions.

As part of its outreach activities, the WTO organises an annual Public Forum, which brings together governments, non-governmental organisations, academics, businesses, and other stakeholders, for discussions on a broad range of issues, including many relating to the digital economy.

Digital policy issues

E-commerce and trade 

The WTO agreements cover a broad spectrum of trade topics, including some related to e-commerce, which has been on the WTO’s 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 to explore the relationship between WTO Agreements and e-commerce. The Work Programme and the moratorium have been periodically reviewed and renewed. In December 2019, the General Council agreed to reinvigorate the Work Programme and continue the moratorium until the Twelfth Ministerial Conference. In addition, members agreed to have structured discussions on all trade-related topics of interest brought forward by members, including on the scope, definition, and impact of the moratorium.

At the Eleventh Ministerial Conference in 2017, a group of members issued a Joint Statement on Electronic Commerce (JSI) 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 outcome that builds on existing WTO agreements and frameworks with the participation of as many WTO Members as possible.’ Negotiations are continuing among 85 Members and are structured under 6 broad themes, namely: enabling digital trade/e-commerce; openness and digital trade/e-commerce; trust and digital trade/e-commerce; cross-cutting issues; telecommunications; and market access. Specific issues under discussion include provisions related to customs duties, paperless trading. cross-border transfers of information, spam, cybersecurity, electronic authentication and electronic signatures, location of computing facilities, consumer protection, protection of personal information, and market access.

Taxation 

WTO members agreed to a temporary moratorium on the imposition of customs duties on electronic transmissions at the Second WTO Ministerial Conference in the 1998  Geneva Ministerial Declaration. The moratorium has been extended periodically, including most recently in December 2019. While some WTO members argue that the moratorium should be made permanent, others have noted the need to clarify its scope and for further analysis of its impact; for example on development and customs revenues, especially given concerns that more types of physical goods could be digitised or transmitted digitally in the future. Other members have supported a more holistic approach to the moratorium, beyond the revenue implications.

Access 

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 on several ICT products – including computers and mobile telephones – with the aim to intensify global competition among certain ICT goods allowing for greater access to the Internet and growth of the digital economy, including for least-developed countries. Currently, 82 WTO members are participants in ITA-I, accounting for approximately 97% of world trade in ITA-I products. At the Tenth WTO Ministerial Conference in Nairobi in 2015, over 50 WTO members concluded ITA-II, an agreement expanding the coverage of ITA-I by 201 tariff lines. ICT products such as optical lenses and GPS navigation equipment were added. The rationale of this product expansion was to keep the benefits of tariff elimination in touch with innovation. At present, the ITA-II consists of 55 WTO members, representing approximately 90% of world trade in ITA-II products. The ITA is being discussed in the JSI under the market access focus group.

Telecommunications infrastructure 

In 1997, WTO members successfully concluded negotiations on market access for basic telecommunications services through the GATS Annex on Telecommunications, which contains provisions to guarantee service suppliers access to and use of basic telecommunications needed to supply their services. Through a reference paper on regulatory principles, members also agreed to safeguard against anticompetitive practices by dominant suppliers of basic telecommunications. Since 1997, an increasing number of WTO members have undertaken commitments on telecommunications. Under the JSI negotiations, participants are discussing a proposal focused on telecommunications services, aiming to update provisions of the reference paper.

Digital standards 

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: (i) measures addressing the Internet of Things (IoT) and related devices in terms of their safety, interoperability, national security/cybersecurity, performance, and quality; (ii) measures regulating 5G cellular network technology for reasons related to, among others, national security and interoperability; (iii) measures regulating 3D printing (additive manufacturing) devices; (iv) measures regulating drones (small unmanned aircraft systems) due to risks for humans/consumers, interoperability problems, and national security risks; and (v) measures dealing with autonomous vehicles, mostly concerned with their safety and performance.

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, the GATS is particularly relevant, as it could apply to services such as: (i) data transmission and data processing by any form of technology (e.g. mobile or cloud technologies); (ii) new ICT business models such as infrastructure as a service (IaaS); (iii) online distribution services e.g. (e-commerce market platforms); and (iv) financial services such as mobile payments. The extent to which members can impose restrictions on data or information flows 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 free flow of data for the purpose of commercial activities. Proposed exceptions to this general rule are, for the most part, similar to the existing GATS General 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, especially when national measures adopted for cybersecurity have been considered 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.

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. Some exceptions to this general prohibition have also been proposed. For example, for software that is used for critical infrastructures and public procurement transactions.

Arbitration 
One of the core activities of the WTO is to provide a dispute settlement mechanism through which WTO members can enforce their rights under the WTO agreements. A trade dispute arises when a member considers that another member is violating a legal provision or commitment made under any of the WTO agreements. Disputes under this mechanism have involved Internet-related issues, telecommunications services, electronic payment services, IP rights, ICT products, and online gambling. The US – Gambling case concerning the cross-border supply of online gambling and betting services is particularly relevant to e-commerce.
Cybersecurity 

Cybersecurity issues have been addressed in several WTO bodies. For example, the TBT Committee has discussed national cybersecurity regulations applicable to ICT products and their potential impact on trade. In the TBT Committee, to date, WTO members have raised over 15 specific trade concerns related to cybersecurity regulations. Some of the specific issues discussed include how cybersecurity regulations discriminating against foreign companies and technologies can have a negative impact on international trade in ICT products. Proposals on cybersecurity have also been tabled in the JSI on e-commerce. Discussions have focused on strengthening national capacities for incident response and collaboration mechanisms; encouraging co-operation; and sharing of information and best practices on addressing incidents. Cybersecurity has also been discussed in the context of cross-border data flows and electronic authentication.