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Arab countries 'need to invest more in IT' - Region lagging behind in e-commerce (Daily Star)

Arab countries need to invest more in information technology to carve a bigger share of the $2.3 trillion global internet economy, speakers at an e-commerce conference said on Wednesday.“The Arab world’s share in global e-commerce cannot be compared with the share of any developed country,” said Mervat Tellawi, executive secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, at the opening session.

The two-day conference is organized by ESCWA, the World Intellectual Property Organization, and the Lebanese Economy and Trade Ministry. Out of the global $2.3 trillion in electronic trade reached in 2002, the Arab world tallied up $3 billion over 2000 and 2001 and is expected to reach $5 billion by 2005, Tellawi said.

The Arab world still lacks proper legislation to govern trade over the internet, which carries security concerns and requires a developed telecommunications infrastructure.

The region’s lagging in e-commerce is entwined with the low level of internet usage.“One in six people in North America and Europe use the internet,” said Aly Harakeh, public relations manager for Microsoft’s East Mediterranean Region. “But one in 25 people in the Arab world use the internet.”

Harakeh said the number of internet users in the Arab world does not exceed 5.5 million out of a population of 280 million.

However, the high population growth in a country like Egypt means it is set to overtake Saudi Arabia as the Arab state with the single largest internet community. Other underdeveloped states, such as Iraq, Syrian, Yemen and Sudan, are expected to trail behind.

However, the more developed countries in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council are expected to lead in terms of internet penetration as a percentage of population.“The United Arab Emirates has the highest internet penetration rate in the Arab world, with 27 percent of the population having access to the internet,” said Harakeh.

Angel Gonzalez-Sanz, economic affairs officer at the Geneva-based UN Conference on Trade and Development , said developing countries with low e-commerce economy have no choice but to go online.“They (firms in other developing countries) had to go online to keep doing business with the developed world,” said Sanz. “A point more important to note is competition. If you want to remain competitive in the local market, you have to adopt technology all the way.”

Beirut,05 12 2003
Dania Saadi
The Daily Star
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