On 17 July 2020, SCO Secretary-General Vladimir Norov took part in a videoconference on SCO digital economy and e-commerce in a COVID-19 environment, sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Uzbekistan.
Addressing the participants, Mr Norov said the SCO countries had faced a pandemic that became a serious challenge to the entire international community. It was threatening people's lives and health and had a negative effect on the socioeconomic development of all states.
According to Secretary-General Norov, the rapid transfer of many business activities and the operations of many of the most important public and education services online have shown what powerful technological and personnel capabilities were available in the IT sector.
"Against the background of the СОVID-19 pandemic, internet platforms are growing in importance. They have both accelerated the complete digitasation of the services sphere and create numerous new jobs with new business formats. In this way, they have become a new incentive for employment stabilisation," he said.
It must be stressed that e-commerce, while being an innovative means of modern international trade, has formed a fundamentally new level of supplier-consumer relations on a global scale, thus erasing geographical and sociopolitical borders.
Contemporary e-commerce and the global economy as a whole depend heavily on the number of internet users. As of today, 2 billion internet users the world over make online purchases.
According to UNCTAD statistics, the global e-commerce market is about $29 trillion. So, the number of online buyers has increased as well.
According to some estimates, current digital trade accounts for 20% of global trade and it is expected that the proportion will rise to 25% by 2025.
"The pandemic has shown clearly that digitalisation and ICT are absolutely essential for the further functioning of the economy and society as a whole. The modern world is on the threshold of unprecedented and, one can even say, revolutionary technological changes. As I see it, the future belongs to those who will be able to use the huge potential of the IT industry effectively," Secretary-General Norov said.
"Digitalisation and the massive transformations in the economic sphere are pushing the global economic pole to the East. Today, the majority of analysts agree that the Eurasian macro-region will emerge as the driving force of the world economy within the next few decades," he said.
The SCO region, which accounts for 60 percent of the territory of Eurasia and almost half of the world population, is a huge market for joint innovation projects in IT and in digital economy areas.
Those at the SCO summit in Bishkek in June 2019 approved the Concept for Cooperation in Digitalisation and Information and Communications Technologies to help countries in the region to jointly develop their digital economies via an exchange of best practices, human capital development and the implementation of joint economic and scientific research projects.
At the meeting in Tashkent in November 2019, the SCO Council of Heads of State (Prime Ministers) approved a Programme of Multilateral Trade and Economic Cooperation of the SCO Member States until 2035, which prioritised, among other things, the development of digital commerce.
To form the relevant ecosystem, Vladimir Norov suggested drafting an SCO programme for the development of e-commerce based on UNCTAD capabilities and the achievements of the SCO digital frontrunners — India, China and Russia — and their leading IT companies.
First Deputy Foreign Minister of the Republic of Uzbekistan Farkhod Arziyev noted in his remarks the importance of building up potential cooperation in e-commerce within the SCO.
He informed the participants about Uzbekistan's measures to promote digital economy, the relevant regulations approved in the republic, and his government's performance in implementing plans for the development of the national digital economy.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered an unprecedented global crisis. We must be ready for the major changes and challenges that are already underway in the global economy against the background of the pandemic crisis. I am referring to fundamental changes in global economic patterns, in trade, and the technological and investment flows resulting from the disintegration of current production and supply chains, the crisis in some sectors and advances in certain others," he said.
At the same time, according to Mr Arziyev, the pandemic has opened new prospects for mutually beneficial and practical cooperation within the SCO. "We need to explore whether we can put to good use some still idle additional capacities, resources and reserves. These are primarily the new and dynamic industries related to digital technologies, e-commerce, and other hi-tech areas," he said.
He stressed that Uzbekistan regarded the digital agenda not only as a promising line in economic development, but also as an irreversible process that was rapidly penetrating all spheres of public and social life. "The pandemic is only reinforcing this trend. It can be seen in everyday reality, starting from the government services sector, to trade, to interstate relations. We see much potential for implementing Uzbekistan's digital development strategy in international cooperation, including cooperation within the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation," he said.
He supported Secretary-General Vladimir Norov's initiatives on promoting digital economy and e-commerce cooperation between SCO member states.
Deputy Minister of Innovation Development of Uzbekistan Azimzhon Nazarov also stressed the importance of promoting e-commerce and digital cooperation. He noted that his government prioritised the development of promising economic sectors based on digital technologies.
"Uzbekistan is promoting the digital economy in all areas rather than in one particular sector. The economy is in the lead in this sense. The entire region's digital development is important to us because it will motivate accelerated development in Uzbekistan itself," he said.
He invited IT companies from the SCO states to cooperate and announced that Uzbekistan was prepared to discuss and accept best e-commerce practices. "We are ready to hold workshops webinars, and conferences that will help to develop the digital economy, human resources and personnel potential," he said in conclusion.
Vice President of China International Electronic Commerce Centre Hu Yang described its work and confirmed their readiness to cooperate with the SCO member states in developing the industry within the SCO space.
Director of International and Public Relations Department at Alibaba Group and head of the Alibaba Office in Beijing Luo Lin informed the audience of activities to promote the digital economy. She said that Alibaba designed its educational programmes for e-commerce experts. The company is also interested in promoting the industry in the region as a whole.
"Our strategy is ‘inclusive development' and we seek to work with partners who share our values. I would like to note that we mostly help to increase the potential in this sector. It is not our goal to capture other countries' markets," she said.
Those in the videoconference noted the importance of holding a series of similar online events to promote creative ideas among the younger generation.
The videoconference also included members of the SCOLAR Network.