Cross-border trade in digital goods and services has grown 45-fold over the past decade. How can policy makers and the business community work together to ensure that new technologies and digital applications can lead to a more prosperous, productive, inclusive and socially beneficial world? And what lessons can be learned from current discussions and related work within the 35-nation Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)?
This was the focus of a conference today in Washington, D.C., “Facilitating Digital Transformation: The OECD’s Role,” organized by the USCIB Foundation, the educational arm of the United States Council for International Business (USCIB), in partnership with the OECD and Business at OECD (BIAC).
In opening keynote remarks, David Redl, chief counsel for communications and technology at the Energy and Commerce Committee, U.S. House of Representatives, compared extending broadband access to the construction of the interstate highway system. “Despite everyone’s best efforts, there are still parts of the United States that lack the infrastructure to meet universal availability and adoption,” he stated. Redl said government spending alone won’t get the job done. “We must also foster investment in U.S. networks, streamline regulation, and improve online trust and security to bring the benefits of the Internet to every American.”
OECD Deputy Secretary General Douglas Frantz identified several factors as key to ongoing digital transformation: improved communications infrastructure and services, new and innovative business models, improved consumer trust and privacy protection, effective policy making, and a robust approach to the challenges and opportunities posed by improvements in artificial intelligence (AI). On the latter point, he proposed that the OECD work toward some sort of policy instrument to address AI.
Andrew Wycoff, director of the OECD’s Directorate for Science, Technology and Innovation, outlined the OECD’s work to assess the G20 economies’ uneven progress to date toward enabling the digital transformation. He said the OECD’s upcoming policy recommendations would focus on the importance of boosting investment in digital infrastructure, ensuring competition in the ICT sector and the broader economy, and establishing sufficient trust in the digital economy while also making it truly inclusive.
During an industry roundtable on emerging technologies, Jacqueline Ruff, vice president for international public policy and regulatory affairs with Verizon, said public policy will be important to remove barriers to the deployment of fifth-generation wireless technology, while creating a pro-investment environment. “They key to 5G will be smart communities,” she stated.
Other conference panels examined questions of equity and potential negative effects of digital technologies, as well as ways to enhance trust in an increasingly connected world. Organizers said the event would help steer discussion toward practical measures to maximize the benefits of new technologies. Panelists also focused on jobs, as well as education and skills-development challenges and opportunities, posed by digital transformation and the efforts by companies, such as IBM, to create “new collar jobs” enabling a segment of workers in more mature industries to become productive participants in the digital economy.
“Getting policy right for digital innovation is a critical factor for economic competitiveness, for trust and confidence in the digital environment, and ultimately for societal well-being”, said Bernhard Welschke, Secretary General of Business at OECD. “We need to communicate the benefits of digital transformation and Business at OECD will continue to work closely with the OECD on this challenge.”
USCIB President and CEO Peter Robinson stated: “We hope that today’s discussions will enable those who may not participate directly in OECD meetings to learn more about the OECD’s work and its value to the process and substance of crafting sensible, effective policy and regulation. Whether it is in providing frameworks, or in the development of consensus-based guiding principles, the OECD has a lot to offer and think about.”