Early in 2022, the Republic of Korea and Chile (coordinators of the WTO Joint Initiative on Investment Facilitation for Development Agreement (“IFDA”)) announced that they had aimed to conclude the negotiations surrounding the provisions of the Joint Statement Initiative (“JSI”) by 2022.
While the deadline for conclusion of the negotiations had to be extended, it has been reported that significant progress was made during 2022. Despite the progress made, however, developing countries such as South Africa and India have raised several concerns surrounding the direction taken by the IFDA in relation to the JSI.
South Africa, India and Namibia have recently raised their opposition to the JSI negotiations, particularly concerning the deliberations surrounding investment, e-commerce and Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises. Such opposition follows what many have flagged as a disconcerting lacuna in representation. For example, of the 87 WTO members that are parttaking in the JSI negotiations, only 30 are developing countries, and of those 30 developing countries, only 4 are least developed countries. This, despite the emphasis on and importance of digital policies and regulations in such countries.
In an attempt to decrease the gap between developed, developing and least developed countries insofar as certain areas such as the digital economy is concerned, entities such as the World Bank have stepped in with proposed mechanisms to aid developing countries.
The World Bank, for example, created a pilot fund, namely the Digital Advisory and Trade Assistance Fund, to assist developing countries with the adoption of law and policy which will benefit the digital market sector.
Sadly, despite such endeavours, most low and middle-income countries are hesitant to enter into rulemaking negotiations in respect of sectors which are largely unregulated in their own economies, such as is the case in the digital economy, and while advancing the digital economy in Africa is vital for employment and economic growth, the limited usage of digital technologes continues to be a lost opportunity for many African countries.