United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Information Economy Report (IER)

2075-440X (online)
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The Information Economy Report is published annually. It analyses current trends and major international policy issues regarding information and communication technologies and their use for, and effect on, trade and development. The Report  builds on UNCTAD´s E-Commerce and Development Report and redefines its scope, reflecting the increasing pervasiveness of the information economy and its key role in trade and development.
Information Economy Report 2017

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Information Economy Report 2017

Digitalization, Trade and Development You do not have access to this content

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28 Dec 2017
9789213627877 (PDF)

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The Information Economy Report 2017 analyzes the evolving digital economy and its implications for trade and development. While these are still early days of the digital economy, it is already clear that it will have globally transformative impacts on the way we live, work and develop our economies. As the world strives to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, harnessing the power of information and communications technologies (ICTs) is essential. Large parts of the developing world remain disconnected from the Internet, and many people lack access to high-speed broadband connectivity. Policymaking at the national and international levels needs to mitigate the risk that digitalization could widen existing divides and create new gaps. Since increased reliance on digital technologies, such as cloud computing, three-dimensional printing, big data and “the Internet of things”, it is essential to start assessing opportunities and pitfalls alike, and to prepare for what is coming. The analysis contained in the report contributes to this process and proposes ways in which the international community can reduce inequality, enable the benefits of digitalization to reach all people and ensure that no one is left behind by the evolving digital economy.

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  • Note

    Within the UNCTAD Division on Technology and Logistics, the ICT Analysis Section carries out policy-oriented analytical work on the development implications of information and communications technologies (ICTs) and e-commerce. It is responsible for the preparation of the Information Economy Report. The ICT Analysis Section promotes international dialogue on issues related to ICTs for development, and contributes to building developing countries’ capacities to measure the information economy and to design and implement relevant policies and legal frameworks. The Section is also managing the eTrade for all initiative.

  • Preface

    These are still the early days of the digital economy. But already it is clear that it has had, and will continue to have, globally transformative impacts on the way we live, work and develop our economies. As the world strives to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – our universal blueprint for building peaceful, prosperous societies on a healthy planet – harnessing the great power of information and communications technologies can be one of the keys to success, including by opening new pathways of development and helping countries gain access to the global store of knowledge. The developing world itself is showing great leadership in technological innovations that can spur their own growth while benefiting the world.

  • Foreword

    The world is at the dawn of the next technological revolution. It will be multifaceted and its implications transformational. Digitalization will create opportunities for entrepreneurs and businesses, while also bringing enormous benefits to consumers. However, at the same time it will disrupt existing practices, expose incumbents to competition, change skills requirements of workers and result in job losses in some countries and sectors.

  • Acknowledgements

    The Information Economy Report 2017 was prepared by a team comprising Torbjörn Fredriksson (team leader), Cécile Barayre, Pilar Fajarnes, Scarlett Fondeur, Sabrina Ielmoli, Diana Korka, Smita Lakhe, Marta Pérez Cusó and Marian Pletosu under the supervision of Angel Gonzalez Sanz, Chief, Science, Technology and ICT Branch, and the with overall guidance of Shamika N. Sirimanne, Director of the Division on Technology and Logistics.

  • List of abbreviations
  • Overview

    The world is on the cusp of a new digital era. With dramatically reduced costs of collecting, storing and processing data, and greatly enhanced computing power, digitalization is transforming economic activities around the world. It is expected to affect value chains, skill requirements, production and trade, and will require adaptations of existing legal and regulatory frameworks in various areas. This has major implications for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, presenting significant opportunities, but also challenges, for developing countries. The Information Economy Report 2017 examines the evolution of the digital economy and its potential consequences for trade and development. Although the speed of digital transformation differs among countries, all of them will need to adapt policies in several areas.

  • An evolving digital economy

    The role of information and communications technologies (ICTs) in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is gaining importance. With reduced costs of collecting, storing and processing data, and greatly enhanced computing power, digitalization is transforming more and more economic activities around the world. However, the pace at which the digital economy is evolving varies considerably. Some countries have quickly embraced digital technologies, but most of them lag far behind in their readiness to engage in the digital economy.

  • Measuring the evolving digital economy

    Reliable measurement of the evolving digital economy is essential for governments to be able to design and implement evidence-based policies. This chapter uses available statistics and data from official and other sources to measure ICT penetration, use, production, employment and trade. The analysis also highlights estimates of more novel features of the digital economy, such as the rise of the sharing economy, 3D printing and robots. It reveals major digital divides and highlights significant gaps in the availability of official statistics, especially in developing countries, indicating a need for a comprehensive effort to help them collect internationally comparable statistics in key areas.

  • Digitalization, trade and value chains

    Digital technologies are improving the prospects for small businesses in developing countries to participate in global trade. They enable enterprises to cut costs, streamline supply chains, and market products and services worldwide with greater ease than before. Increased trade and reduced trade costs can have positive spillover effects on the economy as a whole, for example through enhanced competition, productivity, innovation, a more dynamic business environment and improved access to talents and skills. But benefits from digitalization are not automatic; MSMEs still need to overcome various barriers to successfully exploit the new opportunities.

  • The digital economy, jobs and skills

    Increased digitalization is expected to have disruptive effects on jobs and skills. It will lead to new types of jobs and employment, change the nature and conditions of work, alter skills requirements and affect the functioning of the labour markets as well as the international division of labour. As countries and locations benefit from improved access to similar digital infrastructure, being able to exploit these resources better than others becomes an increasingly important determinant of the competitiveness of enterprises and locations.

  • International trade agreements and internet governance

    As trade is increasingly affected by digitalization and conducted over the Internet, it becomes important for policymakers to factor in how the Internet itself is governed and operated. International trade policies are developed in a very different manner than Internet policies. While the former involves State-to-State negotiations behind closed doors, Internet governance is characterized by multi-stakeholder dialogue.

  • Policies for trade and development in the digital economy

    Policymakers are facing a formidable task in keeping up with the rapid pace of technological change, a general scarcity of relevant data and a high degree of uncertainty over the shape of the future. The challenges in this regard are highly contextual. Countries vary greatly in terms of their readiness to engage in and benefit from the digital economy, with LDCs lagging the furthest behind. Ensuring that no one is left behind in the digital economy therefore requires global efforts in providing adequate support.

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