UNDP Resident Representative, Frode Mauring keynote speech at the Digital economy conference 2017

May 1, 2017

Dubai (UAE) - UNDP signs an MOU with the Council of Arab Economic Unity at the Digital Economy Conference ‘SEAMLESS’ ©UNDP UAE / Soha Afify

Frode Mauring, UNDP Resident Representative a.i. to the United Arab Emirates -also covering the states of Oman and Qatar- Speech at the Digital Economy Conference ‘SEAMLESS’

Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Paulo Coelho, the famous novelist, once said “Everybody has a creative potential and from the moment you can express this potential, you can start changing the world”.  That’s why it gives me great pleasure to be around all these creative minds I see today.   Certainly, I am honoured to be in such good company at SEAMLESS Middle East 2017, the largest Digital Economy and Ecommerce event in the region.

I would like to congratulate the Arab Federation for e-Commerce and its senior leadership on the launch of the Federation’s Strategy to promote e-Commerce in the coming years.  This strategy constitutes the visionary blueprint of more structured works by the Federation in the region.  UNDP is pleased to join the private sector to make e-Commerce an instrument to improve the well-being and welfare of Arab citizens and residents, to share knowledge and to create business and job opportunities.

This morning I signed an MOU with the Council of Arab Economic Unity under the League of Arab States that fully acknowledges the contribution of digital economy for promoting inclusiveness, competitiveness, higher productivity, good governance and making information a public good.  I call upon our distinguished CEOs and representatives of the private sector to join hands with the UNDP in collective efforts and joint actions to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) leveraging on the positive contributions of E-Commerce.

Furthermore, we are happy to shoulder the partnership with the Federation and its members to promote Arab E-Commerce within the framework of digital economy while fostering Arab connectivity.   Modernization of public policy and the legal/regulatory framework constitute a transformational task to support the private sector and particularly SMEs leveraging on the potential of E-Commerce.

I also take note that the main themes of this conference relate to how to make the internet, and its specific application – E-Commerce, more accessible, affordable, open and safe to our population.  This will facilitate the development towards a knowledge-based economy and a harmonious and happier society.  As Meg Whitman, then-president and CEO of eBay said: “Communications is at the heart of e-commerce and community”.  Communications like the Internet and the information infrastructure in general are as essential as electricity or water nowadays.

Good governance and increased affordability of high-speed broadband to the population are essential to achieve the SDGs through e-agriculture, e-health, e-education and the empowerment of women as well as other dimensions of global development. For that, investment into broadband is no longer a luxury but a necessity for the future of the region so technology could play its role in economic development.

The emergence of the connected smart-phone has revolutionized access to information for low-income business people in small countries.  This has placed them on more level playing field with wholesalers.  However, according to the Measuring the Information Society Report of 2016 (MISR) by International Telecommunication Union, in some low-income countries, 20 to 40 percent of people still do not own a mobile phone yet.  The gender gap in mobile phone ownership is noticeably large.  

Furthermore, the Report points to an interesting point – internet users with higher levels of education use more E-Commerce, online financial and governmental services than those with lower levels of education. This emphasizes the importance of more attention to education as part of the comprehensive framework of promoting e-Commerce.

E-commerce is not about merely buying and selling – it is about knowledge and making good use of it.  At present, E-Commerce contributes with less than 1 percent of the GDP of the MENA region while this percentage stays between 4 to 5 percent on average all over the world.  And more importantly, there is large diversity in terms of use of information and communication technology (ICT) in the MENA region.  Bahrain and the UAE are in the lead with the ranking of 29 and 38 respectively in the ICT Development Index (IDI) while Yemen was ranked 155 in 2016 as presented in the MISR 2016.

To address this challenge, governments represented by the public sector has a key role to play in the design of corresponding measures to promote development in strong partnership with the private sector.  In the word of Jack Ma, the Executive Chairman of Ali Baba, “Let’s make trade simpler, let’s take out some of the rules and laws that are not working, to move trade faster,”  Indeed, growth, jobs and services are important rewards of investments by the public and private sector into the digital economy in the Arab region.


Certainly, regional economies have been making important progress in recent years to narrow the digital divide at national and regional levels.  It is worth to highlight, Algeria has been identified among the most dynamic countries in IDI with a positive change of 9 places in the 2016 ranking.  It has been explained by substantial improvement in terms of internet users, households with internet and penetration of mobile-broadband subscriptions. Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia have also made important progress as reflected by the change in their IDI value.

Moreover, E-Commerce has immense potential to contribute to the development and efficient operations of the value chains in the Arab region. That will certainly reduce further costs of doing business, improve regulatory transparency, enhance good governance and empower every citizen.

Also, E-Commerce and technology can provide more job opportunities and allow women to participate more easily in the labour market as documented in the World Development Report of 2016.  Let me borrow the experiences from Alibaba Holding Company when it comes to jobs-creation in China.  Alibaba’s executive chairman Jack Ma said that the company succeeded to create 33 million jobs in China as each small business online creates at least three jobs.

This is quite interesting for governments and the private sector in the design of new measures and applications to support youth and innovative entrepreneurs.  Setting up a financial technology or “fin-tech” ecosystem in the region will help start-ups and support them to grow and develop.

I would like to share with you some efforts that the UNDP has been doing to assist the Arab economic integration and connectivity in recent years.  The UNDP partnered up with the Arab League and specific countries in the introduction of modernized trade policies and practices.  We can’t talk about E-Commerce without addressing the key issue of how to best leverage on the expertise of qualified labour within a more liberalized market at the regional level.  

UNDP supported works by Arab countries in the conclusions of negotiations of the Arab Agreement on liberalization of trade in services (the Beirut Round).  Ratification is expected completed by the end of 2017.


We have also supported the strategic planning of several governments in the region and supported them in the development of digital platforms to deal with international trade operations such as the National Single Window.

Upgrading the current regulatory framework of target countries to international standards constitutes another focus of our works, which aims at more interconnectivity and interoperability at national and regional levels.  These efforts are to make trade easier, more effective, and more efficient and having more business-friendly regulations.



We have substantially invested in building the technical and managerial capacity of public officials in countries like Egypt and Jordan whose target is the improvement of planning, design and implementation capabilities of the public sector.  We look forward to working with the Arab Federation of e-Commerce and its members in key areas for e-Commerce.  Examples could be in the adoption of a new regulatory framework, joint activities for the dissemination of knowledge and good practices, as well as institutional strengthening, particularly at the regional level.

Before my speech comes to an end, I would like to share with you a quote by Thomas Edison, who said “If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves”.

    That’s why we promise to continue working with stakeholders in both the public and private sectors to make the digital economy a backbone of the Arab knowledge-based economy with higher productivity.  Improvement of access to technology for all citizens in this region is a vital ingredient in the long path to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

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