A data-driven future for trade governance and sustainable development

For digital technology to assist governments in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), public service models require access to quality, timely, sources of data. Traditionally, data in the form of outcomes, or statistics, has been used to inform and target policies, but greater utility may come from using data as an input. Because trade governance involves negotiation, formulation and enforcement of rules by different institutions, robust data ecosystems increase the potential for digital automation and improved service delivery. With the proliferation of cross-border electronic commerce, the developmental returns from trade are largely dependent on the future of data.

Paired with existing and novel sources of data, simple algorithms can enable trade policy automation. As micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) make up as much as 70 percent of employment worldwide, more accessible trade policies could yield much needed dividends for labour markets. Also, new research from McKinsey & Company highlights that many companies already derive a considerable proportion of value creation from digital ecosystems and new sources of data. Government and society have much to gain and the World Economic Forum estimates that digitalisation will continue to grow its contribution to economic activity and facilitate 60 percent of global GDP by 2022.

International data flows, accessibility and use are complex topics under discussion across the United Nations (UN) system. Worldwide, data and statistics communities face multifaceted challenges when attempting to impact small business success through modern policies. With participation by representatives, users and producers from all sectors, the 2020 UN World Data Forum covers six thematic areas for the use of data in policymaking. To be held virtually from Bern, Switzerland, each of the forum’s themes follow a path for governments to improve public services. In particular, thematic area two of the forum, “Innovations and Synergies Across Data Ecosystems”, points to ways to get the most out of a data-driven future.

Ecosystems for better use of disparate sources and forms of data

The historical role of trade ministries and national statistics offices (NSOs) is evolving. These bodies are morphing into service providers and collaborating with non-traditional producers of data. In supporting transformation and capacity development, data ecosystems tackle the changing needs of producers and users. To maximize opportunities for new data sources and big data, initiatives to mainstream digital technologies must emphasize such public-private collaborations.

As title of the OECD report “Mapping Approaches To Data And Data Flows” indicates, the understanding of and access to data is critical to its value. A relationship between data sources and the enabling environment for integration and application is essential. In tandem with a data ecosystem, technology communities provide innovations and prospective synergies across institutions. Engaging human-centred approaches to policy design, well-developed data ecosystems can increase access to trade information and modes of policy compliance.

Producing inclusive data while improving access and communication

The digitalisation of trade relates to the use of data to improve the automation potential of cross-border processes. Whether globally, nationally or at a local-level, improved availability, quality and understanding of data on specific groups can help to promote inclusive trade. Along with technical methods, producing, mapping and leveraging data can improve the position of vulnerable groups through enhanced visibility and participation.

By combining algorithmic trade governance approaches with open data practices, MSMEs and citizens can be empowered to control data and its capacity to improve livelihoods. Additionally, international cooperation between public and private sectors can further integrate systems for transboundary measurement of SDG implementation.

Initiatives to make data accessible and useful must be in parallel to increased literacy and communication. Policymakers need to use data to make decisions, highlight the true impact of policies and customise official communications to diverse user groups.

Safeguarding trust and implementing data initiatives

Data initiatives require human infrastructure, financing and supportive legislation (e.g. laws to cover data protection, electronic transactions/records and e-signatures). National institutions have a coordinating role with other stakeholders to develop and promote the adoption of data standards, governance frameworks and technologies.

Data can be a means to build trust, yet areas such as user engagement, open data practices, data protection policies/methods, and standards must all be taken into account by initiatives. Trade governance mechanisms are in need of an upgrade, as data privacy and security present challenges in the changing global ecosystem. However, technology solutionism alone is not sufficient.

Implementing a ‘data revolution’ will take investment and participation of the global data community. Aside from accounting for emergent rules on data flows, ecosystems in developing countries must emphasize coordination across stakeholder groups. By addressing existing constraints and challenges that arise, governments can leverage data ecosystems to improve trade governance and progress toward the ‘Global Goals’.