Poor countries can leverage on e-com: UN Study

BANGKOK: Even poor countries with primitive communication systems can successfully use electronic commerce to escape from poverty, according to a U.N. report released Wednesday.

The rapid growth of the Internet and electronic shopping in developed countries has led to fears of a "digital divide" that will widen the gap between rich and poor nations.

But the study by the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development says electronic commerce can be used even by countries with only basic telecommunication and computer facilities.

"It's not primarily a question of technology," said Bruno Lanvin, head of UNCTAD's Electronic Commerce Section, which produced the study. "The tools are there at reasonable cost."

But the report says poor countries need to quickly foster an "e-commerce culture" or risk being left behind as electronic commerce takes off. "At this stage, it is still too early to say whether it will narrow or broaden the gap between rich and poor," UNCTAD Secretary-General Rubens Ricupero said in the report's forward.

"However, it is safe to say that the rapid expansion of electronic transactions constitutes a major opportunity for trade and development," he said.

While electronic commerce today consists largely of Internet shopping sites for consumers, such as Amazon.com, electronic commerce in the future will be dominated by transactions between companies, the report says. This will give an important opportunity to small suppliers in developing countries that want to reach global markets, Lanvin said.

"Companies in the developing world that want to be involved in e-commerce have to immediately focus on business-to-business commerce," he said.

The $2 million study, in which more than 2,000 officials and experts participated, concludes that developing countries should establish national electronic commerce task forces with

representatives of government and business.

Electronic commerce "is so profound in its implications on how people work, how they interact .. that all components of civil society need to be involved," Lanvin told reporters.

"If we do things right with e-commerce, we are going to establish building blocks to do something much more important, which is to make sure that developing countries are not left out of the new economy, which is not just e-commerce, but a knowledge-based and Internet-based economy."(AP)

Source: The Times of India. February 17, 2000