Government and businesses joining forces to tackle e-commerce development bottlenecks

First Public-Private Dialogue on e-commerce in Nay Pyi Taw

EBy Department of Trade (WTO Division)

The advent and dissemination of ICT and digital trade is revolutionizing businesses and trade patterns on a global scale. Digital technology allows developing countries to leap frog stages of development and climb regional and global value chains. Digital commerce is here to stay and could well be the major part of trade transactions in the not too distant future. These are some of the take-aways from the “Digital Trade in a Digital Economy – Public-Private Dialogue on Emerging E-Marketplace in Myanmar”, organized by the Ministry of Commerce on September 26, 2018 in Nay Pyi Taw.
The Government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar vows to play an active part in international efforts to streamline the rules on e-commerce and in working on removing national barriers to e-commerce. The benefits of e-commerce for development are evident and should aid the further integration of Myanmar into the regional and multilateral trading system.
There is an unprecedented opportunity for Myanmar to do digital, as well as financial, leapfrogging: to use technology to accelerate change and development, and to use e-commerce to move from a cash-only to a cashless society.
In October 2017, the Ministry of Commerce commissioned the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) to take stock of the country’s eTrade readiness. The eTrade Readiness Assessment of Myanmar, launched globally on April 16, 2018, includes 48 priority actions, spread across seven key policy areas, to be considered to increase uptake of e-commerce in Myanmar. To implement these, the Ministry of Commerce is tasked to be the lead cooperation ministry to accelerate the adoption of e-commerce by Government entities and businesses and therefore contribute to the Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan.
In the past 10 months, the Ministry of Commerce, with support from the EIF Tier 1 project, has organized several Public-Private consultations on e-commerce (October 2017, December 2017, March 2018) that led to the first Public-Private Dialogue (PPD) on Digital Economy and E-Commerce organized in Nay Pyi Taw on September 26, 2018, and attended by 250 public and private sector participants.
The PPD benefitted from the Chairmanship of U Than Myint, Union Minister for Commerce, and U Zaw Min Win, President of UMFCCI. Several key players in Myanmar E-Commerce Firms, represented in the roundtable discussion, raised their concerns reflecting the challenges and urged government to continue the dialogue to address these bottlenecks.
The PPD highlighted some of the key bottlenecks to e-commerce uptake:
(1) Improving and updating the legislative and regulatory framework for e-commerce, in particular: online consumer protection, data privacy and status of e-commerce platforms
(2) Deployment of and trust in electronic payments (e-banking and mobile money)
(3) Lack of digital literacy, ICT skills and awareness on opportunities and risks for MSMEs
(4) Competing mandates and priorities on digital economy and e-commerce among Government institutions
(5) Challenges for the Government to generate revenues from e-commerce activities

Besides the lack of customization of platforms for content in Myanmar language and the limited command of English among the population, business and government included, it will be important to educate merchants and consumers on the benefits and pitfalls of digital work and of e-commerce. Government has a role to play in educating the population on digital products, as well as in making sure that educational institutions incorporate digital literacy in their curriculum. The same goes for ensuring that tertiary educational bodies contribute to reducing the ICT skills gaps. Companies involved in the Internet economy, mostly MSMEs, can also work to provide education to encourage consumers to engage more online, including shopping and paying.
With robust growth and clear demand to go digital, Myanmar is attracting the attention of business accelerators and venture capitalists, fueling the booming tech start-ups industry. In the long run, more investors and incubators will be needed, complementing assistance from the government and banks to create the ecosystem needed for e-commerce to take off in Myanmar.
The Ministry of Commerce will continue mobilizing public and private sector stakeholders in coming months, through sector-focused consultations and advocacy.

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