We were pleased on learning that a stakeholder consultation on enhancing the digital economy of countries of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) was held earlier this week spearheaded by the OECS Commission.
Why were we pleased?
Simply that digital technology and communication infrastructure are growing in importance. Increasingly, they are transforming how we interact, conduct business, and participate in the global economy.
Here in the OECS there are several challenges impeding the digital transformation of our economies. The Commission in fact recognised such impediments when it said that such challenges have “resulted in a growing digital divide limiting the ability of many OECS Member States to fully tap into the benefits of the digital economy in the same way as many advanced economies.”
We understand that the workshop forms part of a broader OECS project which is being funded by the Commonwealth Secretariat to assess Digital Trade and eCommerce readiness in six Member States of the OECS. It is a project assessing six pillars of e-commerce readiness namely citizens’ readiness; business readiness; information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure and accessibility; logistics and delivery; policy and regulations; and the financial and banking eco-system to support e-commerce.
Further, that the strategic objective the Commission aims to achieve through this intervention is to support digital transformation and spur OECS entrepreneurs to take advantage of opportunities to scale through access to eCommerce. A more intermediate outcome for the Commission is to identify the key limiting factors to the expansion of digital trade in the OECS.
According to the OECS Permanent Delegation to the United Nations in Geneva, given that Ecommerce is also being discussed at the World Trade Organization (WTO) and other international fora, there is an urgent need for all OECS Member States to be sensitized to the evolving regulatory environment that is likely to emerge from workshops that were held this week.
“This is even more important against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic which has revealed both the necessity for digital transformation, as well as the extent of the prevailing digital divide between and among countries,” noted the Commission.
We can’t help but underscore the importance of entering the digital age. The world today is going digital. Most countries that we do business with use electronic communication and digital technologies to provide goods and services. The traditional economy is slowly but steadfastly being eroded to a point where we will have no choice but to adapt. How we adapt and when we adapt could mean economic progress or economic regress for us.
But we have to be smart on how we transform our economy into a digital one as there are pit falls along the way such as the bypassing of labour laws, disruption to jobs, monopolistic power of tech giants, and, of course hacking, among others.
This is not to say that a digital economy does not have benefits for the developing world. It sure does, such as giving us greater information and choice, saves time, reduces costs for business, greater flexibility in work, etc. We are simply advocating caution, something that could easily be overlooked due to its rapid worldwide development as it is the single most important driver of innovation, competitiveness and growth, and it holds huge potential for entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
While we do not know the percentage of OECS enterprises that are currently taking full advantage of new digital opportunities, we are fully aware that how businesses – and countries, adopt digital technologies will be a key determinant of their future growth.
As small developing economies within the OECS we need to get digitally connected to the outside world or risk being excluded from the global market.
The OECS Commission is on the right track in hosting such a workshop as the digitalisation of small and medium size enterprises, which really are the backbone of such economies, could lead to economic growth, something we believe none of the economies of the OECS would want to miss out on.