WIPO Symposium on Trade Secrets and Innovation

Event description

Event date: 23–24 May 2022

The WIPO Symposium on Trade Secrets and Innovation provides an exchange platform for ideas and perspectives with regard to the intersection of trade secrets and innovation in both the technological and service sectors. The 2022 symposium will focus on the ‘roles of trade secret systems in supporting innovation and knowledge sharing in a rapidly changing innovation ecosystem’. The discussions will cover the interaction between trade secrets and innovation policies, how to balance legitimate interests in trade secret systems, the international/cross-border environment, the scope of data protection, trade secret management and knowledge sharing, the development and dissemination of medical technologies, and defence against allegations of trade secret misappropriation.

For more information, and to register, please visit the official page.

World Intellectual Property Organization

Acronym: WIPO

Address: 34, chemin des Colombettes, CH-1211 Geneva 20, Switzerland

Website: https://wipo.int

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is a UN agency functioning as a global forum for intellectual property (IP) related services (patents, copyright, trademarks, and designs), policy, information, and co-operation. The organisation was established in 1967 and it currently has 188 member states, in addition to over 200 observers representing non-governmental organisations and intergovernmental organisations.

WIPO’s activities are focused on: Contributing to the development of a balanced and effective international IP system; providing global services to protect IP at a global level and to resolve disputes; sharing of knowledge and information on IP-related issues; and encouraging co-operation and offering capacity building programmes ​aimed to enable countries to use IP for economic, social, and cultural development.

Digital Activities

WIPO provides domain name dispute resolution services, through its Arbitration and Mediation Center. In this regard, the organisation has developed (in collaboration with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)) the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) – the main domain name dispute resolution mechanism for conflicts on the right to register and use domain names under certain generic top level domains (gTLDs). The Center also administers disputes under a number of specific policies adopted by individual gTLD registries and provides domain name dispute resolution services for over 70 country code top level domains (ccTLDs).

The organisation administers the WIPO Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performances and Phonogram Treaty (known as the ‘Internet Treaties’), which contain international norms aimed at preventing unauthorised access to and use of creative works on the Internet or other digital networks. It also carries out research and provides recommendations on issues related to the protection of intellectual property rights in the digital environment (especially with regards to copyright and trademarks).

Digital policy issues

Artificial intelligence 

WIPO is paying particular attention to the interplay between artificial intelligence (AI) and IP. In December 2019, it published a draft issue paper on AI and IP, which was later revised based on public comments and re-published in May 2020. The paper explores the (potential) impact of AI on IP policies in areas such as copyright and related rights, patents, trademarks, designs, and overall IP administration. Building on this exploratory work, WIPO is leading a Conversation on IP and AI, bringing together governments and other stakeholders, to discuss the impact of AI on IP. WIPO is also working on an AI and IP strategy clearing house, through which it is collating government instruments (strategies, regulations, etc.) that are relevant to AI and IP. The organisation is additionally developing and deploying AI solutions in the context of various activities; relevant examples are the WIPO Translate and WIPO Brand Image Search, which use AI for automated translation and image recognition.

Alternative dispute resolution 

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

Intellectual property rights 

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

Copyright: WIPO is actively contributing to international discussions on the protection of copyright in the digital environment. The organisation administers the ‘Internet Treaties’, which contain international norms aimed at preventing unauthorised access to and use of creative works on the Internet or other digital networks. Among others, the treaties clarify that existing IP rights apply on the Internet, but also introduce new ‘online rights’. WIPO also carries out research and organises seminars and other meetings on aspects concerning challenges and possible solutions for the protection of copyright and related rights in the digital era.

Liability of intermediaries 

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

Sustainable development 

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

Climate change 

WIPO’s Global Challenges programme brings together various stakeholders to explore issues related to green technologies and the environment. For instance, it hosts WIPO Green, a multistakeholder platform aimed to promote innovation and diffusion of green technologies, and it provides analysis of relevant IP issues to facilitate international policy dialogue.

Digital tools

WIPO is using multiple digital tools in relation to its services. Below are some examples:

  • WIPO Match – platform that matches seekers of specific IP-related development needs with potential providers offering resources
  • WIPO Proof – a service that provides a date- and time-stamped digital fingerprint of any file
  • Madrid e-services – online tools and resources
  • Electronic Forum – enables the electronic distribution and submission by email of comments concerning preliminary draft working documents and draft reports.
  • WIPO Academy, which also includes an eLearning Centre
  • Platforms for online meetings (not so clear which platform(s) WIPO is using)

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’.

Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies

Acronym: IHEID

Address: Maison de la paix, Chemin Eugène-Rigot 2A CH-1211 Geneva, Switzerland

Website: https://graduateinstitute.ch

The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies 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 aims to promote international co-operation and contribute 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, governments and multinational companies, the Institute participates in global discussions and prepares future policymakers to lead tomorrow’s world.

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, digitalisation has become one of its fundamental and policy-oriented research areas.

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, etc.) to provide seamless services as well as dematerialised/paperless processes (e.g. student applications, course registration, etc.) for students, staff, and professors.

Various publications address topics related to digitalisation and its impact, such as big data, robotics, crypto mining, terrorism and social media, data in international trade and trade law, Internet governance, digital health, microfinance and Fintech, smart cities, etc.

The Institute also organises workshops, seminars, film screenings, and other events that cover Internet-related issues, ranging from the digital divide and the governance and regulatory aspects of data to cybersecurity.

Digital policy issue

Capacity development 

The Institute provides a multidisciplinary perspective on international governance, including research and teaching on Internet governance, digital trade, and artificial intelligence (AI).

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 Internet Governance and Economics’, ‘Internet Governance: the Role of International Law, Cybersecurity and Virtual Insecurity’, ‘Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Work’, ‘Technology and Development’, and ‘Big Data Analysis’. Digital skills workshops are also organised for students to provide them with basic digital competence for their future professional or academic life (e.g. big data analysis, digital communication strategy, introduction to programming with Python, data analysis in various contexts, etc.)

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 Internet and AI governance, digitalisation of trade, fintech, AI and humanitarian law, regulatory aspects of data, digital inclusion, and open government data. Some of the prominent research initiatives are listed under respective digital policy issues sections below.

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.

Artificial intelligence 

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 faculty also 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.

Sustainable development 

A number of projects carried out by the Institute’s members aim to address the relation between digital technologies and sustainable development. 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 project ‘Governing health futures 2030: growing up in a digital world’, hosted at the Global Health Centre, 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.

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 labor: i) App-based work mediated by online service platforms and ii) the use of blockchain technology in mining sites for ethical sourcing, traceability, and proof of origin.

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 the fintech and traditional banking.

Online education 

The Institute has developed digital tools (e.g. app for students, responsive website) and used digital services (e.g. social media, Facebook, Google ads, etc.) 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 and PhD programmes, as well as in executive education.

Thanks to the above developments, the Institute was able to respond quickly and effectively to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. In a week, the Institute moved to distance working and online teaching.

Digital tools

  • Digital collections that allow free access to historical documents, texts, and photographs on international relations from the 16th to 20th century;
  • Two free online courses (MOOC) 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 history and interdisciplinary master courses to encourage students to use social network platforms to popularise their findings.

Future of Meetings

Any reference to online or remote meetings?

  • Events, sessions, and seminars are held online (usually in Zoom), e.g. information sessions for admitted and prospective students are taking place online.

University of Geneva

Acronym: UNIGE

Address: Rue De-Candolle 5, 1205 Genève, Switzerland

Website: https://unige.ch/

Stakeholder group: Academia & think tanks

The University of Geneva (UNIGE) offers more than 280 types of degrees and more than 250 continuing education programmes covering an extremely wide variety of fields across exact sciences, medicine, and humanities.

Digital activities

The university has incorporated digital technology into its strategy and appointed a vice-rector in charge of defining and piloting digital initiatives in the fields of education, research, and services to society. Its digital strategy focuses on three dimensions of digital technology: digital technology for teaching and research, digital solutions for open and connected science and digital expertise in the service fo society.

It also provides courses focusing on digital law, and it has been very active in research related to applied physics and quantum cryptography.

More information on the university’s digital strategy can be found at the dedicated page.

Digital policy issues

Capacity development 

 In an attempt to develop digital skills of its community, the University of Geneva has put in place a series of measures to meet the needs of its students, researchers, administrative staff, and other community members. To this end, the university offers a series of courses on digital technologies and related issues, participates in a number of projects, and provides training and workshops on particular digital skills and tools. It is also developing and deploying its Open Science roadmap.

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

Leveraging its multidisciplinary culture, the university has recently created a transversal Data Science Competence Center aiming at federating competencies from all faculties and enabling cross-fertilisation between various disciplines to develop advanced research and services.

The university has also developed a Digital Innovation Incubation Programme that supports residency periods for its members at swissnex San Francisco to enhance the links with the Bay Area.

The university has created a portal for online and blended learning with a set of resources to help tutors prepare their courses and classes. Some of the resources are intended for self-training, while others provide users with training/coaching opportunities with University of Geneva e-learning and blended learning experts.

Digital tools

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

The University of Geneva also offers a number of online courses.

 Future of Meetings

Any reference to online or remote meetings?

  • The university plans to extend its Zoom license, which was initially acquired for one semester, until the end of the 2020/2021 academic year. Some exams have taken place online.

Any reference to holding meetings outside HQ?

  • The university is using online platforms for e-conferences and plans to deploy them in order to provide alternatives to in-person meetings.

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development

Acronym: UNCTAD

Address: Palais des Nations, Av. de la Paix 8-14, 1211 Genève, 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?