Digital Trade


How can we ensure technology drives new, inclusive trade growth and recovery in the digital age? 

The Fourth Industrial Revolution – associated with rapid technological change and digitalization – has already had a profound impact on the way we trade. Digital payments, data flows and digital services delivery, particularly across borders, are also playing a critical role in response to the COVID-19 pandemic response. Digital trade in services are among the most dynamic sectors in the global economy and could be further harnessed for the recovery process. Emerging technologies such as blockchain, Artificial Intelligence, or the Internet of Things could further alter the trade landscape in years to come.

However, barriers to digital trade exist and in some cases growing, whether due to outdated rules, new forms of protectionism, or as domestic policymakers seek to address novel governance questions without international collaboration. E-commerce entrepreneurs must navigate challenges from last-mile delivery logistics to secure cross-border payments. New data localization policies are emerging and other hurdles are emerging for international digital service supply. The promise of trade technologies to increase efficiency and inclusiveness is being challenged. Disruptive effects on business and the workforce will need to be navigated, while questions on taxing global digital activities are ongoing.

In response, the Forum’s Digital Trade initiative brings together high-profile business experts, civil society and government actors on digital trade priorities. The programme operates on these fronts:

  • Accelerate e-commerce trade preparedness to benefit small businesses and developing economies

  • Build interoperability for global data flows, including through trade frameworks and regulatory cooperation, and explore the effects and requirements of rapidly expanding digital trade in services

  • Promote interoperability, design policies to improve access, and address frictions and regulatory gaps associated with digital payment for trade and commerce

  • Lead and design new policy frameworks for cross-border digital services in the digital age, from remote work to digital taxation

  • Map new trade technologies – including cloud services, DLT and 3D printing – and driving discussion on policies to balance gains versus risks


1) Policy Advice, support and formulation

Best Practice Advice

The World Economic Forum convenes public-private dialogue on best practices and solutions for ecommerce challenges. Through a series of workshops and other events, the Forum curates discussion on where targeted interventions may be needed in national, regional or international settings to ensure global e-commerce drives inclusive growth – particularly for small businesses.

2) Research, Reports and Evaluations

Scoping Papers

The World Economic Forum is publishing a series of scoping papers on challenges facing digital trade. These set a baseline for public-private dialogue on potential solutions. Upcoming papers include:


Defining and Measuring Payments Interoperability: this paper will provide quantitative measurement metrics to help policymakers understand the bottleneck of their payments systems and to provide a framework to foster dialogue and collaboration between public and private sectors.


Payments to Advance Growth for All: Challenges and Opportunities: this paper will summarize a series of workshops and interviews focusing on identifying challenges facing Latin America and the Caribbean in adopting digital payments for trade and commerce and proposes actionable recommendations for public and private and private and private collaborations. Community insights are being collected through a series of workshops and bilateral interviews taking place at the moment. The final paper will be published in Q2 2022.


Digital ASEAN

The World Economic Forum Regional Steering Group supports public-private initiatives that accelerate the region’s digital economy integration and global growth. Five working groups identified concrete actions in the areas of cybersecurity; cross-border data flows; enabling e-commerce and e-payments; digital access; and digital human capital. The working groups provided recommendations to ASEAN Secretariat’s COVID recovery plan.

Payments to Advance Growth for All (PAGA)

In July 2021, IDB Lab, the innovation laboratory of the Inter-American Development Bank, and the World Economic Forum launch the Payments to Advance Growth for All (PAGA) program to unlock the true potential of digital payments in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). This initiative will bring together the public and private sectors, promoting practical recommendations for greater adoption of digital payments in the LAC region.

Digital Currency Governance Consortium

The Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution convene the Digital Currency Governance Consortium (DCGC) around a series of virtual workshops and roundtables to address key questions and governance gaps in digital currency. The Digital Currency Governance Consortium is composed of more than 80 organizations representing numerous sectors and geographies. DCGC members represent the public sector, private sector and civil society across 6 regions – Africa, Asia, Europe, Middle East, North America, and Latin America/Caribbean. The strong sectoral and geographical diversity of the DCGC will ensure that the output reflects many perspectives and points of view.

Facilitation 2.0 Papua New Guinea

In support of Papua New Guinea’s agenda to develop an inclusive digital future, the World Economic Forum launched Facilitation 2.0, a novel initiative piloted in Papua New Guinea with the support of the Government of Australia. The initiative aimed to advance practical, business-driven reforms at the intersection of trade facilitation, investment, and e-commerce, blending local experience with international expertise. The initiative has helped to advance an electronic-transactions act, provided concrete recommendations to digital payments regulation reform, and created a public-private group on digital foreign direct investment. Watch our impact story here.

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