Building capacity to help Africa trade better

High-level B20 Statement: Digitalization for all – Towards an inclusive interconnected world


High-level B20 Statement: Digitalization for all – Towards an inclusive interconnected world

High-level B20 Statement: Digitalization for all – Towards an inclusive interconnected world
Photo credit: B20 Germany

On April 6 and 7, the G20 Digital Ministers met for the first time ever. On this occasion, the B20 issued the following statement co-signed by more than 50 leading business representatives.

The remarkable development of the digital economy has created unprecedented opportunities for growth and inclusiveness within and between countries. In our increasingly interconnected world, digitalization drives social and economic inclusion. It gives people and organizations of any size access to a global marketplace and repository of information. To the benefit of all economic sectors and consumers, it deepens and broadens trading patterns, takes productivity to a higher level, and scales up services. It allows customizing production, facilitates new forms of collaboration, accelerates access to knowledge, inspires innovation and entrepreneurship, and fosters competition. The Internet gives SMEs and firms in developing countries enhanced scalability and better access to markets, financing, labor, skills, as well as new services and products, increasing their productivity and reach. Digitalization improves product benefits, boosts consumer welfare, and facilitates both participation and equality. It is a critical cross-sectoral and cross-cutting means for achieving the Connect 2020 Agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda – from growth, trade, and employment to health, education, energy access, infrastructure, agriculture, food security, and overall societal welfare: digital technologies are crucial catalysts of progress.

While digitalization is already significantly contributing to socioeconomic development, barriers to leveraging its full inclusiveness potential persist. By tackling existing impediments, further imbalances in implementing and applying digital technologies can be prevented.

An obvious obstacle still requiring further attention is access to the Internet. The lack of adequate and affordable Internet access is a major issue relating to development and inclusiveness in low-income countries, hindering the potential of the digital economy and increasing the risk of digital divides. But also in industrialized countries, insufficient broadband coverage diminishes economic potential. Affordable and high-quality broadband coverage is a precondition for the effective use of digital technologies, for example, in the areas of manufacturing, health care, and services. Individual households and SMEs are particularly affected by access barriers such as low availability of broadband or high costs, even more so in remote areas. To reach the goal of "Internet access for all", G20 members have to set ambitious national targets for broadband coverage and make them operative through investment-conducive policies and public-private partnerships in remote or less developed regions.

While ubiquitous ICT infrastructure is an absolute must, by itself it is not enough to increase inclusiveness and growth to the benefit of all. Governments need to enable use cases in areas that will stimulate additional broadband penetration and create positive socioeconomic impact – for instance e-transportation, e-education, e-health, e-agriculture, and e-government. Policies and regulations in vertical sectors should be assessed to make them digitalization-ready. Potential regulatory roadblocks stemming from incumbent, predigital rules and policies should be removed. Governments should not just look at how to eliminate barriers but also at how to incentivize positive action, accelerating digitalization in vertical sectors. This requires cooperation across policy silos and national borders. Multistakeholder exchanges with the private sector and users can help to inform target-oriented policies.         

Without adequate and continuing capacity and skills building, innovation and the use of locally relevant contents, services, and business models will be impeded, diminishing the potential of the digital economy. Digital technologies will continuously lead to rapidly shifting skill requirements and demands. Therefore, concepts for life-long learning, professional development, and the possibility of requalification should be at the center of labor and education policies. Everyone should have the opportunity to adapt to shifting demands and reskill at any point in their life. A lack of digital literacy is not only a barrier for individuals – it also reduces economic potential.

To better prepare business and people for the digital economy, governments have to work together with the private sector to understand current and future skill needs. Curricula in schools, universities, vocational training, requalification programs, and continuing education should be regularly adjusted accordingly. All people – including girls and women – should be enabled to excel in the digital economy. Equally, companies – especially SMEs – are often unaware of digital solutions for their business. Creating awareness of use and business cases, which demonstrate the benefits of implementing new, inclusive digital technologies, can help overcome this barrier. Governments should support businesses in increasing knowledge exchange and fostering expertise on the application of digital technologies, for instance through innovation hubs or competence centers.

In a world where services, infrastructure, public administration, and households are increasingly interconnected, cybersecurity is a critical issue. Not only do cyberthreats create economic damage. Clearly, if there is lack of confidence in the safety and security of digital technologies, the adoption of new technologies – such as autonomous driving, digital health care or augmented intelligence – will falter even if they offer substantial benefits. As cyberrisks are mostly transfrontier, international cooperation among governments and private stakeholders is essential to effectively ensure security and safety in cyberspace while enhancing interoperability and manageability. Global coordination – for instance for common standards in a baseline framework – is not only indispensable for effectively tackling existing risks, but also to avoid the fragmentation of cyberspace through incompatible approaches.

The enablement of cross-border data flows is just as important to preserving the open, global, and interoperable nature of the Internet. A high level of privacy and data protection is an enabler of the digital economy. To effectively provide benefits, it has to be designed in ways that do not impede innovative business models and global interoperability. G20 members should commit to refrain from digital protectionism and should seek to find compatible standards for data protection on a voluntary basis.

As digitalization transcends borders, international cooperation becomes more and more important. With digitalization being a cross-cutting and cross-sectoral issue that touches upon all G20 topics, policy-makers can come a long way in reaching their goal of inclusive globalization to the benefit of all if they show commitment to future-oriented policies. Jointly addressing Internet access, an enabling regulatory environment, digital literacy and skills, as well as improved cooperation for cybersecurity and cross-border data flows is a vital starting point.

“Digitalisation must include everyone”

The G20 Digital Ministers’ meeting in Düsseldorf agreed on a roadmap for joint policies for a digital future. “This is a great success,” said Minister Zypries. The meeting sent out “the signal that we want to shape the digital revolution together, for the benefit of all people”.

One in two people in the world are connected to the Internet. Trade and businesses are dependent on the Internet. Therefore, the federal government has declared digitalisation to be one of the key topics of the German G20 Presidency.

At the end of the two-day meeting, the G20 Digital Ministers presented a joint plan as an international framework for action. It includes a programme with various targets to be achieved by the G20 in the coming years.

The G20 Digital Ministers met in Düsseldorf under the banner “Digitalisation: Policies for a Digital Future”, to discuss the opportunities and challenges of digitalisation with international experts from politics, business and civil society. The meeting was held in preparation for the G20 summit on 5-6 July in Hamburg.

High-speed Internet access for all by 2025

All people around the world should have access to the Internet by 2025. This is the target agreed on by the ministers at the end of their meeting. High-speed Internet should allow everyone to participate in digitalisation and the opportunities it provides. “Digitalisation must include everyone”, according to Minister Zypries.

The G20 nations want to ensure expansion of the broadband networks. This is the only way in which digital applications can be implemented at all. High-speed Internet is one of a total of ten key policy areas for which the G20 sees an urgent need for action, to drive digitalisation globally.

Digitalisation requires international standards

The ministers want to ensure the creation of similar international norms and standards worldwide as far as possible, to enable the different systems to interact with each other. This applies to Industry 4.0, online security, or even automated driving.

“In this way, not only can new intelligent products and business models be developed, but also new value-generating networks, across country and company borders,” emphasised Zypries.

Digital commerce without national models

In their concluding declaration, the G20 nations agreed to create inclusive growth and more employment through digital commerce. This also includes constructive cooperation of the G20 in negotiations with the WTO. Thinking of digitalisation in terms of national models is the primary error one could commit here, cautioned Zypries.

The agreements reached at this conference should serve as a roadmap for the coming years. Argentina, which will assume the G20 Presidency in 2018, has already announced its intention to build on the decisions taken in Düsseldorf.


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