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Digital Commerce

This course provides an interdisciplinary coverage of digital commerce, from both digital and trade perspectives. It builds the knowledge and capacity of participants to engage in digital commerce-related negotiations and discussions on the multilateral and bilateral levels. It is aimed at diplomats, in particular those based in Geneva, staff of trade-related international organisations, and capital-based officials, from developing countries and least developed countries (LDCs). The course is offered by DiploFoundation (Diplo), CUTS International Geneva, the International Trade Centre (ITC), and the Geneva Internet Platform (GIP).

The course adopts a ‘just-in-time’ approach, focusing on ongoing digital trade negotiations and policy processes taking place in International Geneva.

What will you learn?

  • cross-border data flows and data localisation.
  • e-signatures and authentication.
  • online consumer protection and privacy.
  • cybersecurity.
  • access to the source code. 

How will you learn?

In this course you will interact intensively in discussions with classmates and lecturers from around the world. You will receive guidance, and personalised feedback on your classwork, from the course team.

How long will you learn?

The course lasts for 6 weeks:

  • 1 week of course introduction and orientation to online learning
  • 5 weeks of addressing the course topics one by one (see below for more details)

Who should apply

The course will be of interest to:

  • Diplomats from developing countries and LDCs who follow digital trade negotiations, in particular those based in Geneva.
  • Staff from developing countries and LDCs working at trade-related international organisations.
  • Capital-based officials and policy-makers from developing countries and LDCs, in particular those responsible for developing national policies on digital trade.


The course consists of 5 modules:

  • Placing digital commerce in the context of the digital economy. We present some definitions of the digital economy, showcasing the types of economic activities that are encompassed therein. In doing so, we unpack the meaning of frequently used expressions such as ‘digital transformation’, ‘4th industrial revolution’, and ‘data economy’. We discuss two business models which are part of the digital economy: the digitisation of trade and the business model of ‘free’ online platforms based on ‘ad tech’. We analyse emerging trends in digital commerce, such as the proliferation of regional trade agreements, and we discuss how the ongoing COVID-19 crisis has affected the digital economy, and digital commerce in particular.
  • Digital commerce discussions at the World Trade Organization. The WTO plays an important role in facilitating diplomatic talks about digital commerce within the framework of the multilateral trading system. We summarise the evolution of WTO discussions on digital commerce, including discussions leading up to the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference in 2021. We also analyse the Joint Statement Initiative on E-commerce and its ongoing negotiations on digital trade-related aspects among a group of WTO members.
  • Openness and digital commerce. We focus on cross-border data flows and localisation, which are core issues for the growth of the digital economy. The technical knowledge necessary to grasp the implications of policy proposals on these issues will be provided: we zoom in to understand how packets of data flow through the digital ‘pipes’ and arrive at their destination, and what localisation policies mean from technical and policy angles. We analyse provisions on data flows which are present in some key regional trade agreements. The module also covers proposals on the topic ‘open internet access’ - also known as network neutrality - which have important implications to competition and access to information online. 
  • Facilitating digital commerce and promoting business trust. We discuss the role of electronic authentication and signatures to international trade. Existing initiatives to provide harmonisation are highlighted, and proposals under negotiation in these areas are analysed. With regards to enhancing business trust, our focus is on provisions aiming at limiting requests to access or transfer the source code of computer programs. Most digital services and an increasing number of digital and non-digital products are enabled by computer programs, therefore provisions on access to the source code would have consequences in several policy areas.
  • Consumer trust in digital commerce. We tackle the interplay between digital governance and trade policy by providing an overview of the inclusion of digital regulatory aspects in trade negotiations. We will focus on how regional trade agreements and ongoing negotiations at the WTO are aiming at enhancing consumer trust by tackling specific issues, such as consumer protection, privacy, and cybersecurity.


The course addressed a wide gamut of issues including data localisation, net neutrality, and cybersecurity, all topics which are of great importance as the world evolves into the fast-paced and technology-driven Fourth Industrial Revolution. The lecturers were very knowledgeable, and the rich exchanges among participants from diverse technical and professional backgrounds made this course a wonderful learning experience.

– Mr Rashaun Watson, First Secretary, Permanent Mission of Jamaica to the UN and other international organizations in Geneva


Course lecturers

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Jovan Kurbalija

Executive Director, Diplo

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Marília Maciel

Head of Digital Commerce & Internet Policy, Diplo

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Quan Zhao

Trade Policy Advisor, Office of the Chief Economist, International Trade Center

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Rashid S. Kaukab

Executive Director, CUTS International Geneva

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Yasmin Ismail

Research Fellow at CUTS International Geneva


The Digital Commerce course is based on a collaborative learning approach, involving a high level of interaction over a period of 6 weeks. Reading materials and the necessary tools for online interaction are provided in a virtual classroom.

The course will run from 17 May to 25 June 2021 using a dynamic online learning methodology. 

Throughout each course week, participants will read course materials and interact in an online classroom. During the class Zoom meeting each Friday,  the course faculty will clarify pending issues and discuss ongoing policy processes with participants.  Participants who complete the course successfully will receive a course certificate issued by partner institutions.


Applicants for this course should have basic knowledge of trade and digital commerce policies and negotiations.

Fees and scholarships

The course fee is 990 CHF. All selected applicants will be granted a full waiver of course fees, through support from the course organising partners.

How to apply

Please apply online by 12 May 2021, starting from the short application form. After completing this short form, you will receive an email with a link to the full application form.

Please do not forget to fill out the short motivation statement on the application form (100 - 150 words) explaining the reasons for your interest in this course. What are your personal and professional objectives for the future, and how will this course help you to reach them?

Late applications will be considered only if places remain in the course.

For questions, please contact Ms Marilia Maciel at