International E-commerce: Industry Luminaries Share Thoughts At Conference

international e-commerceA mob of international e-commerce honchos convened in Europe to discuss how developing nations can use online retail to kick start economies. Below is a summary of ideas tossed around at the conference.

Bridging The Digital Gap Via E-Commerce?

Arancha Gonzalez, executive director of the International Trade Centre in Geneva, recently spoke about the “huge potential” e-commerce initiatives afford.   Online retail currently makes up 12% of cross-border trade and is growing exponentially.

However, a “huge digital gap” exists because a sizable portion of the world’s population still doesn’t have digital access.

The ambassador of the United Kingdom to Geneva, Julian Braithwaite said: “A multi-stakeholder approach” is required to find “solutions on how to bridge the digital divide between developed and developing countries and their citizens.  By reducing distance and transactional costs digital trade has the potential to empower entrepreneurs and businesses of all sizes, connecting them to the global economy.”

Braithwaite went on to say that “Part of the problem, is that the digital agenda is in many ways fragmented with different international institutions leading on discrete parts of it.” The UK has made efforts “to encourage the Geneva institutions to recognize the economic potential of the global digital market and to work to break down some of the silos and remove barriers to digital trade.”

Democratized Entrepreneurship v Lagging Trade Laws

‎ The European Union public policy & government relations director of Etsy.com, Angela Steen, talked about how e-commerce has lowered startup costs.  Etsy is a peer-to-peer service that links sellers to buyers.  Most of the items for sale on the platform are handmade or vintage, but some factory made products can be found.

Etsy boasts 1.7 million sellers, of which 87% are women. Not only that, but the average Etsy seller is younger than the average entrepreneur; for 50% of them, it’s the first place they’ve sold anything online.  Moreover, 50% of Etsy sellers ship internationally, plus many are running small businesses out of their homes.

“E-commerce has democratized entrepreneurship,” yet “many of our sellers continue to face significant challenges in selling their goods” Ms. Steen explained.  She went on to cite trade laws that have fallen behind e-commerce growth, as well as international regulations as the highest hurdles. Steen also implored governments to “recognize micro business and not place burdens on them.”

eBay Focusing On The Unconnected

Hanne Melin Olbe is the director of global public policy at eBay.  At the gathering, she stated that eBay is committed to assisting smaller companies compete in the global e-commerce market and is focusing on unconnected businesses.

“For us, the unconnected are those who have not been connected to world markets, those who have been [excluded] from world trade.  Online is a potentially powerful vehicle for connecting the unconnected to markets because of the costs of connecting countries.”

An example of this type of partnership is eBay’s work with ITC to connect European markets to African sellers.  “Small firms whether in Italy, Chile, South Africa or Indonesia use online seller platforms to sell to consumers worldwide” she stated.

Jack Ma: Lower Taxes!

Alibaba’s founder and e-commerce luminary Jack Ma also shared concerns about international e-commerce development.  “I hope we have regulations to encourage entrepreneurs, to encourage infrastructure investment, and to reduce tax policies for e-commerce companies,” Ma reasoned.

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