• English

Geneva, 12 June 2001

Statement by Dr. Danuta Hübner,
UN Under-Secretary General
Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Europe


Distinguished participants,

This is the second Forum organized by the UNECE to discuss the future of electronic commerce. This year you have joined us here in Geneva to discuss electronic services for trade, investment and enterprise development. It is indeed very encouraging to see so many people willing to share their precious time with others, to share their knowledge, expertise and experience and, I am sure, hoping also to learn more from others. Thank you for coming.

We meet here to discuss electronic services at a time when a shared vision for global electronic commerce seems to be emerging. This vision is based on the assumption that rapid development and spread of global electronic commerce requires a broad, collaborative approach by governments, private sector and international organizations to ensure a stable and predictable environment which facilitates its growth and maximizes its social and economic potential across economies and societies.

An important element of this shared vision is the confidence in the digital market place. We need both trustworthy technologies and policies, we need regulations and codes of practices and standards, we also need effective user protection.

We know today that the social dialogue and cooperation among all stakeholders are vital in determining policies, and all actions undertaken must be internationally compatible. Governments, the business community, consumers and international organizations must work together if trust, rules and information infrastructure development are to lead us towards a global information society. The expansion of electronic commerce depends on universal and affordable access to the information infrastructure. Effective competition in telecommunication markets can ensure a long term trend towards lower costs, improved quality and unrestricted access to information infrastructure and services. Governments should indeed promote a competitive environment for electronic commerce and eliminate unnecessary barriers.

The business community should play a key role in developing and implementing solutions to issues essential for the expansion of electronic commerce, and work closely with other stakeholders. It should also play a leading role in stimulating growth of global electronic commerce through investment and innovation.

A major challenge for us here in the region is to enhance participation of countries with economies in transition that are less advanced in information technology. There are already numerous stories of successful participation by firms from countries with economies in transition in electronic commerce. They should be broadly presented, as best practice is a major mechanism for progress and we should aim at having more of them.

Let me say a few words on services as they are one of the most promising areas in trade for countries which face the challenge of catching up. They account today for at least 20 per cent of the recorded world trade as well as for the majority of domestic activities in most economies of our region. Some analysts believe they will reach 50 per cent of the world trade by 2020. Services encompass activities from banking, transportation, travel, telecommunications, audio-visual services to professional services and internet-based service offerings. They account for more than 70 per cent of production and employment in advanced market economies, levels that many of emerging economies are today approaching fast. Of course, the world trade in commercial services is regionally uneven. Global data conceal rather large regional discrepancies. What is important, however, is that trade in the "other services" category (which includes all but transportation and tourism) has been growing at over 9 per cent over the last 5-6 years.

Interestingly, catching-up economies have been gaining a growing share of trade in services with fastest growth in exports of the mentioned "other services" which include new services supported by information technologies. These services are a niche opportunity for countries with economies in transition. What matters for us here today is that services are at the heart of the new economy since they drive economic activities based on the new economic paradigm.

No country today can be successful in its efforts to adapt new technologies to its needs or to link itself to the global economy without establishing the basis for a thriving, productive and innovative services industry. Regulatory reforms and liberalization of trade in services have been crucial tools for achieving this objective over the last 5-6 years. The increased capacity to process and transmit information and the associated tradability of services have generated the globalization in both goods and services. The globalization of markets due to new telecommunication and data processing technologies has been most pronounced in financial services. There is no doubt either that internet has opened up the possibilities of the efficient global distribution of many services.

We can say today that the implications of the information revolution for the rules on global trade in services did not confront the first generation of GATS negotiations but they figure prominently in current debate on services.

I am sure that our Forum will add to this ongoing debate. I wish you a lot of satisfaction with these two days in Geneva.

Thank you for your attention.