South needs data digitalization policies, say CSO experts


PHOTO/Duck Duck Go

Washington DC, 15 Apr (Deborah James*) – Data is emerging as the center of the new economy, and it is imperative that developing countries are able to obtain economic value from the data that their citizens are generating, and formulate and implement digital industrialization policies ensuring equitable local control, policies similar to those that developed countries took during their industrialisation.

Titled, “Strengthening MSMEs and Creating Jobs Through Digital Industrialization: What Policies Work?”, the event was organised by the National Association of Nigerian Traders (NANTS) and the East African Trade Union Confederation (EATUC).

[This message received strong support at an event in Washington DC on 12 April, where Nobel-laureate and Colombia University academic, Professor Joseph Stiglitz, responding to a question, said that he opposed any international agreement on digital issues.

[He said: “It seems to me that there should be no international agreement until there is a greater clarity about how to regulate them. Or, if there is an international agreement, be very clear that it’s only temporary until there is clarity about what the rules of the game, the regulatory structure ought to be.” He underscored not only issues of privacy, monopolies and abuses, but also those relating to taxation and said such issues need thorough discussion and clarity before any agreement on a regulatory framework is agreed. Details towards end.]

At the civil society event during eCommerce Week at UNCTAD in Geneva, chaired and moderated by Mr Parminder Jeet Singh, Executive Director of India-based IT for Change, civil society experts on digital economy, representatives of labour unions and organisations of micro-, small- and medium enterprises (MSMEs), presented a powerful case for an international digital development framework with policy space for developing countries to ensure that developing countries are able to obtain economic value from the data that their citizens are generating.

This would need an international policy framework to guarantee that developing countries are able to adopt digital industrialization policies akin to those that developed countries successfully used in their industrialization.

While policies of developing countries may vary depending on the circumstances of each, there can be no place in such a strategy for developing countries to merely link their digital economies to the less-than-handful of digital technology giants and their oligopolistic control, speakers at the event stressed.

The organizers noted that the digitalized economy is shaping the landscape for development opportunities around the world. In order to achieve the Africa 2063 Agenda and the worldwide Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on expanding employment, decreasing inequality and eradicating poverty, millions of new jobs must be created.

In many economies, MSMEs play a critical role in the economy, providing 50 to 80 percent of employment and at least 40 percent of GDP. Empowering MSMEs in global trade should therefore boost job creation and promote more inclusive economic growth.

In recent years, much attention has been placed on helping MSMEs participate in trade through access to global value chains. But does linking with foreign tech companies hold the answer? Or would a focus on supporting domestic MSMEs create more decent jobs?

The co-sponsors convened the event to put forth “strategies to increase decent work and expand MSMEs in developing countries,” arguing that digital industrialization holds a more likely promise for closing the digital divide, expanding manufacturing, increasing competitiveness, and fomenting structural transformation.

The moderator, Mr Parminder Jeet Singh**, argued that data is the center of the new economy, and thus the core need is to ensure that developing countries are able to obtain economic value from the data that their citizens are generating.

He pointed out that digital industrialization is focused on utilizing “the same industrialization policies that developed countries took when they industrialized.”

And now with digitalization of the economy, “you have to have digital industrialization policies with local control that is equitable,” he said.

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