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ELECTRONIC SERVICES: PREPARING THE UNECE REGION FOR THE CHALLENGE OF THE FUTURE

Published:26 June 2001

The Forum on e-services attracted over 400 participants (government officials, business executives and representatives from trade and international organizations) from all over the world. The interest of such a large number of participants was the most obvious indication of how relevant and necessary discussions on e-services are.

It is therefore understandable that one of the most widely drawn conclusions of the Forum was that services were the future of any countries’ integration into the on-going internationalisation of trade. ‘This applies particularly to transition economies that for long years had favoured the expansion of the manufacturing over the services sector’ said Mr. Jaroslaw Pietras, Under-Secretary of State from Poland in his opening address to the Forum. He specifically mentioned the two important elements of e-services that are the ‘Horizontalization of services that allows restructuring of the former conglomerates and creates new business opportunities for mini, micro and SMEs in the transition process and the importance of linking to the international supply chain, using Information and Communication Technologies (ICT)’.

Furthermore, transition economies, as was pointed out by several speakers, were extremely fast in adopting new technologies. Thus, although the existence and development of a high-standard e-services infrastructure and good telecommunications was recognized by the Forum as prerequisites for successful e-services expansion, the rapid growth of mobile communications and the willingness to work with the Internet in transition economies were rather encouraging for the "catching-up" process.

In his address on the ‘Complementarity between investment and trade in e-services’, Dr. Giarini of the ASEC/Geneva Association stressed that ‘the present dichotomy between the old and new economy does not help to really understand the fundamentals of the present economic situation and developments. In practice, older systems and new systems are constantly being integrated to obtain more efficient economic solutions’. Banks, insurance companies, financial services companies, auditing firms and freight forwarders have already developed fully independent electronic services. Governments have begun to provide services to citizens on the Internet. Furthermore, intra-company services have also become more and more integrated, allowing a high potential for the optimisation of supply chains in manufacturing, logistics or international trade. This trend is also evident even within government administrations. He concluded that ‘a global strategy for the service economy tends to combine investment with trade, developing local human capital and resources’.

An efficient service sector is increasingly viewed as a prerequisite for economic growth and social development, and this is particularly true for knowledge-based services with high value placed on intellectual capital. The transition to knowledge-intensive service-oriented economies gives a powerful impetus to upgrading the educational level and skills of people. This ever-growing importance of the services sector requires a well-trained, well-prepared or re-trained workforce to succeed. A positive development to be noted is that such a pool of skilled persons often already existed also in transition economies and therefore could simply be used in a more coherent and innovative way. On the other hand, there is a need to teach new skills especially to SMEs in transition economies, which are keen to access the world of e-services. It is precisely in this area that the Forum participants saw a special role to be played by the UNECE. To this end, they called on UNECE to encourage governments and the private sector to help develop a distance learning programme. Such a programme should help provide the framework within which it would be possible to stimulate new job opportunities, prepare people and business for the challenges offered by e-services, and sensitise the business community and consumers to ultimately help close the digital divide across the UNECE region.

The overall image of any country is especially important for its service production and export policy to succeed. The image depends on the overall macro-regulatory framework and efficiency of the economy, including the level of education, service orientation, security and trust, the quality of the public facilities as well as standard and reliable services. International action was felt as crucial in attaining this objective. International organizations involved in standardization should closely collaborate to develop open and harmonized standards and procedures. Governments have an equally important role to play at national level. They have to introduce and enforce, with the help of international organizations if required, well-balanced, carefully targeted regulations that provide for both a stable trading environment and open marketplace for the development of e-services within and across national borders. This will allow trade in e-services to take place in an environment of good governance and attract sustainable investment conducive to the creation and expansion of enterprises.

In his closing address, Dr. Ruoss of the ‘Forum Enterprise Sustainability’ concluded by saying that ‘the e-future starts now, it concerns people and nature and should be done with responsibility and respect. It is not e-Europe but e-World. Can this challenge be kept e-sustainable?’

The enthusiastic view of the Forum participants was that national governments, international organizations, civil society and the business community all need to work together to create and maintain conditions conducive to rapid growth in e-services. The UNECE Committee for Trade, Industry and Enterprise Development endorsed the Forum Recommendations at its June 2001 Session and will launch further measures to assist the public sector to respond in a positive and sustainable way to meet the challenges of e-services.

For further details, please contact:

Mr. Jean Kubler, Forum Coordinator

Trade Facilitation Section, Trade Division
United Nations Economic Commission for Europe
Palais des Nations
CH - 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Tel: (+41 22) 917 27 74
Fax: (+41 22) 917 00 37
E-mail: jean.kubler@unece.org

Ref: ECE/TRADE/01/11


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