(Geneva, 21 June 2022)

President of the Trade and Development Board Ambassador Bahtijors Hasans,
Secretary-General of UNCTAD Ms. Rebeca Grynspan,
Director of the Division on Technology and Logistics, Ms. Shamika Sirimanne,
Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

1. The Group of 77 and China would like to start by thanking the Secretary-General of UNCTAD, the Director of the Technology and Logistics, and the distinguished panellists for their comprehensive remarks on the Digital Economy Report 2021: Cross-Border Data Flows and Development – For Whom the Data Flow.

2. Our Group welcomes the valuable analysis of the Report on the complex subject of cross-border data flows, of which the development perspective is the feature that we most appreciate. The Report contributes to increasing the understanding of the emerging dynamics of international data flows, the policy landscape at national, regional and international levels and the implications for development, while setting the stage for ongoing and future policy debates on data governance, nationally and multilaterally.

3. The Report rightly points to the increasing importance of data as an economic and strategic resource. How data flows are handled is therefore key for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Data are different from goods and services since it involves economic and non-economic aspects such as human rights and security. In a similar way, cross-border data flows are different from international trade, making their management all the more difficult.

4. Our Group continues to be concerned with the persistent and significant digital divide, within and among countries, which affect the most vulnerable. Many developing countries are trailing behind in their readiness to engage in, and benefit from the data-driven digital economy. The accelerated speed of digital transformation during the pandemic has made these divides even more evident, and many among the most vulnerable in developing countries have not been able to use digital tools to cope with the impacts, and make their lives and economies more resilient.

5. Recent trends and developments, reveal that cross-border data flows are leading to a new form of global interdependence. This has been reinforced by the COVID-19 pandemic. With only a handful of countries dominating in terms of capacity to harness the use of data, the largest digital platforms have strengthened their positions in data collection.

6. We note the calls for innovative approaches when approaching the logistics of the digital economy and free digital data flow. In this regard, the Report highlights that digital access costs for consumers remains unequal and requires innovative planning in making the market more accessible, including through affordable devices, data plans and high-speed internet access. The opportunity is there for boosting economies, but only if these technological gaps can be bridged.

7. At the same time, the largest digital platforms have seen their market positions strengthen further and their revenues and valuation surge. This reflects their privileged position in capturing value from data. In fact, as the Report notes, these large digital platforms have unique capabilities to turn the data into digital intelligence. In this situation, most developing countries are at risk of becoming mere providers of data while having to pay from the digital intelligence that is generated from their domestic data.

8. The Group of 77 and China recognises the increasing need of public policies to properly handle data and cross-border data flows, while emphasizing the need for these to complement and be coherent with national policies for making data-driven digital economy work for development, and so that the gains from the data-driven economy can be maximised and the risks involved minimised. The emphasis on ensuring an equitable distribution of the benefits from data in the Report is particularly welcomed by our Group.
9. Moreover, existing regional and international approaches often fail to address the multidimensional nature of data. For example, there tends to be a focus either on trade or on privacy.

10. The Group of 77 and China underlines the importance of considering appropriate policy responses at all levels that allow for the sharing of data for development purposes, while ensuring that risks are properly addressed. Moreover, it is necessary that the gains from data are equitably distributed within and among countries.

11. As the Report highlights, at the international level it is important to ensure that global debates on the governance of data are fully inclusive. The report presents the idea of forming a new institutional body under the auspices of the United Nations. The alternative – building upon existing institutions – could result in the fragmentation of data realms with the capability to create chaos, and the potential to neglect the needs of developing countries as well as stifle global policy discussions. Significant consideration therefore needs to be put into discussions on a central body of cross-border data flows and bridging divides. We therefore welcome the discussion on the best forum for such debates, and stand ready to contribute to a dialogue aimed at bringing this matter forward.

12. While a global approach to data governance is necessary, data have become a global development challenge and opportunity. We must therefore be mindful that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to regulating cross-border data flows. International policies will need to include the necessary flexibilities to ensure that developing countries have the requisite policy space that they need to pursue development objectives in the data-driven digital economy. We call for global cooperation to assist these countries in harnessing the benefits from the data-driven digital economy. The COVID-19 pandemic has bolstered the need for this to be addressed urgently.

13. There is a need to consider how improved governance of the data-driven digital economy can help secure more inclusive development outcomes. And in view of the huge digital divides, we also need international efforts supporting the development of capacities in countries that are trailing behind in their readiness to harness digitalisation and data for sustainable development.

14. The Group of 77 and China considers it to be of the highest importance that countries come together and look for collaborative solutions with a view to achieving the full social and economic potential of data-driven digital technologies, bridging digital and data divides, while avoiding unintended consequences.

15. Such digital cooperation needs to be based on inclusivity, equity, international law, and multilateralism, complemented by a multi-stakeholder approach and putting people at the centre, and with the aim of leaving no one behind.

16. Finally Mr President, the Group of 77 and China wishes to congratulate UNCTAD on its work on fostering the direction of a multilateral dialogue on issues related to the data-driven digital economy, by providing valuable insights through evidence-based research, but also in synergy with the other two pillars of work: consensus-building, mainly in the Intergovernmental Group of Experts on eCommerce and the Digital economy, and technical cooperation, as demonstrated by their eTrade Readiness Assessments, all of which are proving very helpful for developing countries and must be enhanced to cover a wider number of developing countries.

I thank you, Mister President.

© The Group of 77