Conditions for appropriate e-commerce in developing countries

Thursday, 30 September 2021, 13:30 - 14:30 CEST

A session at the WTO Public Forum.


Even before Corona, e-commerce had already been the most important engine of world trade. However, only a few countries and companies have been benefit from this ongoing process - especially the US and China and their digital platforms. On the contrary, the Corona crisis has not changed this development. Today the concentration of data, profit and power on few corporations is pretty much higher than before the pandemic. At the same time, trade talks are been debated at the WTO concerning a plurilateral agreement on e-commerce. While transnational corporations are calling for a free flow of data, India and South Africa and some developing countries, seek to establish data sovereignty. They are presenting new policies, including data localisation requirements.

Vahini Naidu (South Center) pointed out that the huge data divide gives first-movers an enormous advantage and the so-called ‚free flow of data‘ is actually a one-way flow of data from developing to developed countries.

According to Torbjörn Frederiksson (UNCTAD), the new Digital Economy Report, launched on 29.09.2021, indicates that data flows shouldn’t be part of trade negotiations. As data isn’t a private good (like smartphone or cars) but a global public good, the free flow of data can’t be treated like the flow of products or services. Furthermore, data is a multi-dimensional good that can provide e.g. social values. And the fact that data is linked to human rights and national security issues calls for more adequate government responses.

Parminder Singh (IT for Change) said the biggest problem for developing countries is to achieve economic rights over their data.

Africa Kiiza (SEATINI) underlined that technology transfer is one of the most important requirements from the African civil society.

All four panellists agreed to the following three conclusions:

(1) Data is a very important but ambivalent resource. It can help the humanity to overcome global development challenges, but can also undermine the UN Sustainable Development Goals if it is not managed correctly.

(2) One of the main difficulties in developing a comprehensive global data governance structure relies on the very different approach from the three major players towards the digital economy: The US focuses on the private sector, China on a governmental sector, and the EU has a civil rights perspective (data privacy protection, consumer protection). There is a need for a global governance solution to avoid further fragmentation, enable sharing, and enhance trust and to deal with the dominant role of big corporations.

(3) The WTO is not the right body to design a new, fair data structure. The UN should play a key role on this. The experts recommended a new UN body with a clear mandate to deal with those issues, as the UN itself is not doing enough currently. The new model should have a multi-stakeholder approach.


  • Torbjörn Fredriksson, Chief at ICT Policy Section , UNCTAD
  • Parminder Jeet Singh, Executive director , IT for Change, India
  • Africa Kiiza, Program Coordinator Trade Policies and Negotiations, Southern and Eastern Africa Trade Information and Negotiations Institute, Uganda
  • Vahini Naidu, Coordinator of the Trade for Development Program, South Centre


  • Sven Hilbig, Policy Advisor Trade Policy and Digitalization, Bread for the World
Organized by Bread for the World,