UK and South Africa to co-lead initiative on digital trade

Commonwealth flag

A Commonwealth initiative will seek to increase prosperity through digital trade, by helping least developed and developing countries to realise the benefits of digitisation.

The UK and South African governments have announced today (Tuesday 5 March) that they will co-lead the Commonwealth Digital Connectivity Agenda, delivering on a commitment from last year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting to promote inclusive economic growth and sustainable development through digitisation.

The initiative was announced during Africa Tech Week in Cape Town as part of an aim to increase annual trade between Commonwealth countries to $2 trillion (around £1.5 trillion) by 2030. Trade among Commonwealth members stood at $560 billion in 2016.

By bringing together governments and industry from across the Commonwealth, the initiative will explore ways to expand investment, boost incomes and create jobs by helping all Commonwealth countries to take advantage of digital. This contributes to the Department for International Trade’s commitment to reduce poverty through trade, and will benefit some of the world’s least developed countries including Bangladesh, Kiribati and Rwanda. This also includes some of the most remote islands in the world, including Fiji and Tuvalu.

By working together, Commonwealth nations can help to grow economies and boost trade by sharing best practice and expertise on digital connectivity, recognising the opportunities and barriers that businesses and consumers face globally.

Successfully closing the digital divide between developed and developing economies will help to reduce poverty and increase trade between Commonwealth countries.

Global access to the internet could generate more than 140 million new jobs in the developing world, while doubling the number of women online could add $13-18 billion to annual GDP across the developing world.

In addition, only 6% of people in the Commonwealth shop online, but it is estimated that universal broadband could add up to $1 trillion to the annual GDP of the Commonwealth.

International Trade Secretary, Dr Liam Fox said:

As Commonwealth Chair-in-Office, we are delighted to lead on the Commonwealth Digital Connectivity Agenda with South Africa. This new initiative will help more people to join the digital economy as part of our commitment to reduce poverty through trade.

We are aiming to almost quadruple trade between Commonwealth countries by 2030, which will help to create jobs and increase incomes throughout the Commonwealth, particularly in some of the least developed and most remote countries.

This more inclusive approach to economic growth will benefit female entrepreneurs, who own a large proportion of online-only SMEs in developing countries, and we could add $18 billion to the GDP of developing countries if we double the number of women online.

DCMS Secretary of State, Jeremy Wright, added:

The UK has a proud history of digital innovation and through our co-leadership of the Digital Connectivity Agenda we will work with our partners across the Commonwealth to unlock the benefits of digital technology.

This exciting programme will explore ways to boost digital skills, promote inclusion in the tech sector and empower more people and small businesses across the world to drive growth through digital trade.

South African Minister for Trade and Industry, Dr Rob Davies MP, said:

We embrace the undeniable benefits and new opportunities brought about by the advances in ICTs, especially in the context of the 4th Industrial Revolution. But we also take note of the significant potential for disruptive effects of the digital revolution, in particular to least developed countries.

Appropriate policies and measures need to be taken to ensure that developing countries benefit from the advantages of technological progress and do not suffer from lack of its early adoption. Effective policies are required to bridge the digital divides, including through supporting people to learn and by adopting new technologies and ensuring effective mechanisms for transfer of relevant technologies.

We look forward to using this platform to cooperate with fellow Commonwealth members in exchanging experiences and best practises in order to ensure that the digital economy supports inclusive growth.

The initiative is part of an ongoing effort to make trade more inclusive – helping women in particular to grow their businesses and economies through exports and investment. For example, the SheTrades Commonwealth programme has now supported 842 women-owned companies to attend capacity-building and training events. To date, 144 of those companies have gone on to take part in trade fairs, subsequently reporting £12.4 million worth of export leads.

The first meeting of the Commonwealth Digital Connectivity Agenda is scheduled to take place on 19 and 20 March 2019 in Durban, South Africa, and will bring together representatives from across the Commonwealth.

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