Digital Divide is a Major Obstacle in Boosting Digital Trade: Experts

To address the existing digital divide and to promote digital trade in Pakistan, tax rationalization for the ICT sector and the development of telecom infrastructure in Pakistan has a vital role to play.

Member Prime Minister’s Taskforce on IT and Telecommunication, Pervez Iftikhar said this while sharing his views at the virtual workshop “Toward achieving a sustainable regional integration in Pakistan: Digital trade and health integration”. It was organized by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) in collaboration with the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP).

He said that all stakeholders need to put forth collaborative efforts to provide an enabling environment with a focus on information technology and telecommunication in the country.

The workshop was attended by a variety of stakeholders including the Ministry of Commerce, Federal Board of Revenue, Ministry of Information Technology, Electronic Certification and Accreditation Council (ECAC), National Tariff Commission, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, 1-link, Competition Commission of Pakistan, Punjab Procurement Regulatory Authority, Planning Commission of Pakistan, Trade Development Authority of Pakistan, Technical Education & Vocational Training Authority, and Unilever among others.

Introducing the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) initiative to measure the digital regional integration, Dr. Yann Duval informed the participants that the country study with SDPI on digital exports aims to play a facilitating role to support decision-makers prioritizing different areas of regional integration.

Dr. Vaqar Ahmed, Joint Executive Director SDPI, highlighted eight main areas where policy interventions are required to boost Pakistan’s digital exports. The areas he identified included addressing gaps in the legal framework and regulations, investment policy for the technology sector, making tax regime consistent across the federation, enabling commercial banks to understand the digital business ecosystem, improving data protection as well as strengthening consumer rights, relaxation in foreign exchange movement for foreign investors, and addressing overall skills and digital literacy.

“Promotion of digital trade products and services should be an integral part of any free trade agreements signed by Pakistan.” Dr. Ahmed concluded.

Dr. Adil Nakhuda, representing the Institute of Business Administration (IBA), presented that exports for Pakistan medical-related products are concentrated on three products and imports tend to be more diversified.

“Pakistan is competitive in a limited number of products which limits the level of diversification in exports basket” Dr. Adil explained and recommended that regular meetings of health ministers must be organized to exchange knowledge on tackling health challenges among neighboring countries.

Aisha Moriani, Joint Secretary WTO at Ministry of Commerce (MoC) informed the participants that the government has taken key initiatives such as the e-Commerce Policy of Pakistan, National e-Commerce Council, mutual recognition agreements related to manpower export, food products, and medical supplies.

Besides, the Ministry is putting efforts to facilitate the entrepreneurs with respect to international payments in collaboration with the National Institutional Facilitation Technologies (NIFT), Pakistan.

Afnan Khan, while representing the Federal Board of Revenue, said that the Pakistan Single Window will be launched in March 2021 which would be a stepping stone to promote unified registration and strengthen e-commerce in the country.

Representing the Ministry of Information Technology (IT), Mr. Raza Sukhera, informed the participants that MoIT is prioritizing the data protection guidelines, facilitating the freelancers through developing the digital portal, and engagements with tax authorities to address tax-related issues.

He said that in the first quarter of this year, tremendous growth in the IT sector was observed, and to sustain this, continuous policy interventions are required.

Ghulam Qadir, National Tariff Commission, proposed to conduct a study to ascertain the missing element of e-commerce in existing international trade agreements.

Wajahat Khan from Electronic Certification and Accreditation Council (ECAC) explained the Electronic signatures and security of the digital economy through Public Key Infrastructure (PKI).

Earlier, Abdus Salam from Punjab Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA), informed the participants that PPRA has developed certain rules to eliminate the discriminatory measures.

Dr. Shahbaz Nasir from PTA added that PTA is working extensively to provide high speed and stable connectivity across Pakistan whereas Syed Minahil from 1-link explained that his organization aims to enhance the network of boundary-less digital payment grid and related ecosystems.