When Trade Ministers last met in person they did so at the Commonwealth Trade Ministers Meeting in London in October 2019 when 54 countries met. Their most animated and lengthy session with strong contributions from many countries from all regions was on Inclusive and Sustainable Development for Trade in which there was collective concern. Their Communique said: 'We recognized that while trade and investment are important for growth and development, the benefits and opportunities have to be more widely shared across and within our economies to deliver support for increased trade, and to make it more sustainable. We therefore commit to engaging with all segments of our society to identify appropriate measures to create more inclusive and sustainable growth.' As the Ministerial Briefing note said, 'Inclusive development in trade simply means that in their effort to achieve trade and economic growth, countries adopt an approach that ensures that all stakeholders (with a focus on marginalized groups) can benefit from the interventions proposed for implementation.'

A newly published International Trade Working Paper on Digital Reboot: The Case for a Newly Invigorated Aid for Digital Trade Initiative from the Commonwealth Secretariat is a logical development in this context and points to one such intervention. The Commonwealth's International Trade Working Paper series promptly documents and disseminates reviews, analytical work and think-pieces to facilitate the exchange of ideas and to stimulate debates and discussions on issues that are of interest to developing countries in general and Commonwealth members in particular. The issues considered in the papers may be evolving in nature, leading to further work and refinement at a later stage. This paper was commissioned by the Commonwealth Secretariat and authored by Simon Lacey of the Institute for International Trade at the University of Adelaide, with research support by Ziyaad Nazir Ebrahim, a doctoral student at the Institute and feedback from the WTO Secretariat.

Citation and link: Lacey, S (2021), Digital Reboot: The Case for a Newly Invigorated Aid for Digital Trade Initiative, International Trade Working Paper 2021/10, Commonwealth Secretariat, London.

2m video on report 

Key message: 'Poor access to digital infrastructure and technologies means many developing countries are being left behind. Our new briefing "Digital Reboot: The Case for a Newly Invigorated Aid for Digital Trade" Initiative explores the digital trade transition.'

Aid for Trade (AfT), first launched in 2005, has come a long way over the last fifteen years and has undeniably made an important contribution to overcoming the many constraints holding developing countries back from greater participation in international trade, and thus from reaping many of its benefits. This paper first examines which AfT initiatives have sought to enable greater participation by developing countries in digital trade specifically, while also seeking to distil some of the more valuable lessons learned in this process. By way of four case studies it examines some recent successes of Digital AfT initiatives, including one that addresses connectivity infrastructure gaps and another that involves efforts to raise digital skills in order to support entrepreneurship in the e-commerce sector. The paper concludes by first advocating for the adoption of a greater focus on the digital dimension in the conceptualisation and implementation of AfT initiatives proposing the launch of a new Aid for Digital Trade agenda in order to update the original AfT approach and then outlining a number of specific ways in which this could and should happen.

Arif Zaman
Commonwealth Research Network in International Business (CRN-IB) and Bloomsbury Institute London
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