G20 leaders had their annual summit on 4-5 September, in Hangzhou, China. The communique released at the end of the summit, as well as other documents agreed or endorsed during the meeting (such as the G20 Blueprint on Innovative Growth), show that growth and development continue to be key topics on the world leaders’ agenda.
While admitting that ‘growth is still weaker than desirable’ at a global level, G20 leaders underline the need for continuous efforts aimed at fostering innovative growth and sustainable development that ‘serve the need of all countries and all people’. The digital economy and the new industrial revolution (characterised by emerging technologies such as the Internet of Things and cloud computing) are highlighted as main areas that could significantly contribute to a sustainable, balanced, and inclusive growth and development. In order to encourage sustainable progress in these two areas, G20 commits to a series of policies and actions covering several digital policy issues:
Addressing the digital divide is seen as a pre-condition for unleashing the potential of the digital economy. G20 reaffirms the goal of bringing the next 1.5 billion people online and ensuring that they have meaningful access to the Internet by 2020. Expanding broadband infrastructures, ensuring affordable access, and enhancing digital inclusion are listed as main action points in this regard.
It is acknowledged that continuous progress is made in areas such as the Internet of Things, big data, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, robotics, and additive manufacturing. However, the innovative production modalities and business models brought forward by such emerging technologies present not only opportunities, but also challenges for various actors (enterprises, workers, consumers, governments, etc.). In order to leverage the opportunities and cope with the challenges, there is a need to better understand how these look in both developed and developing countries. As such, OECD, UNCTAD and UNIDO are requested to prepare, by the end of 2016, a report on the opportunities and challenges brought by the emerging technologies. Moreover, G20 commits to further work on strengthening cooperation on standards related to emerging technologies, as well as on facilitating modalities for small and medium sized enterprises to benefit from these technologies.
At their previous summit in Antalya, G20 leaders noted that cybersecurity threats risk undermining the society’s ability to use the Internet as a tool for economic growth and development. A year later, the communique only highlights importance of trust and security in the digital environment. Leaders commit to foster favourable conditions for achieving such trust and security, as well as to offer policy support for an ‘open and secure ICT environment’. There are, however, no details as to what an ‘open and secure’ actually mean in this context.
A reference is made to the need to ensure respect for privacy and personal data protection in the context of any action aimed at achieving trust and security in the online space. Additionally, the Blueprint for Innovative Growth touches on freedom of expression and the free flow of information, ideas, and knowledge as essential for the digital economy and beneficial to development. On this point, a link is made with the World Summit on the Information Society and its Tunis Commitment, which underlines the same connection between freedom of expression and development.
There is a strong focus in both the communique and the Blueprint on the role of intellectual property protection and enforcement in the development of the digital economy. A call is made for an adequate and effective application of relevant IPR frameworks, treaties, and agreements. At the same time, however, G20 leaders express their support for appropriate efforts to promote open science, and facilitate access to publicly funded research results on findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable principles.
Promoting investments in science, technology, and innovation, in general, and in the ICT sector, in particular, supporting entrepreneurship (especially micro, small and medium entreprises) in these areas, and encouraging e-commerce cooperation, are also highlighted as priorities for G20 members. Endorsement is expressed for a series of principles for digital financial inclusion, which recognise the need to use digital technologies to reach excluded and underserved populations with financial services suited to their needs.
G20 leaders commit to support initiatives in the area of improving training and skills for science, technology, and innovation. References are also made to the need to support the entry and participation of more youth women in the digital economy and the new industrial revolution. In addition, a commitment is made to facilitate communication, talent exchange, and training between developed and developing countries, as well as to encourage cooperation among universities, training providers and business in order to ensure a better correlation between business requirements and the educational curricula when it comes to digital skills. The need to address challenges related to the workforce skills required by the new industrial revolution is also emphasised.
In order to implement these commitments, G20 plans to set up a Task Force that will take forward the agenda on innovation, new industrial revolution, and digital economy. The Task Force is to be supported by the OECD and other relevant international organisations.
Compared to the Antalya communique issued by G20 leaders a year ago, the Hangzhou communique seems to have adopted a softer language. The previous communique made references, for example to ‘threats to the security of and in the use of ICT’, and called on states to ensure the secure use of ICTs while respecting the right to privacy. The current communique, by contrast, rather focuses on the less controversial issue of exploiting the opportunities brought by the digital economy, and coping with obstacles such as the digital divide. However, there are many commitments taken by G20 members in this area, and it will be interesting to follow how they are actually implemented.