The G20, which comprises the world’s largest advanced and emerging economies, continues to commit to “policies and actions that catalyze digital transformations.” This is the outcome of the G20 Digital Economy Ministerial Meeting in Argentina, held on 23 and 24 August 2018. At the meeting, ministers and senior officials discussed the impact of the digital transformation on global development. With a particular focus on the digital gender divide, the agenda included a range of issues including e-government practices, emerging digital technologies, and efforts to measure the digital economy.

Built upon work achieved under the prior Chinese and German G20 presidencies, the member countries adopted a declaration that affirmed the role of digitalization as a strong driver of inclusive economic growth. It calls on G20 countries to explore new business models to speed up the digital economy in an inclusive, transparent and competitive manner. The declaration also lists several requirements that are essential for a thriving digital economy.

G20 countries to capture the benefits of emerging technologies

With respect to emerging digital technologies such as the Internet of things, artificial intelligence (AI), and distributed ledger technologies, the declaration calls on G20 countries to capture the benefits of digitalization by “i) considering appropriate policy approaches and flexible legal frameworks […] that empower entrepreneurs and foster research, innovation and competition; ii) promoting the application of emerging digital technologies in manufacturing, agriculture and other vital areas; and iii) taking into account the challenges that these new technologies may pose in terms of privacy and security, among others, and the opportunities to improve quality of life and foster economic growth.” The declaration also highlights the importance of supporting SMEs in this context.

As a way forward, the G20 countries committed to strengthen the exchange of best practices and to enhance cooperation in the effective use of emerging digital technologies. The newly created G20 Repository of Digital Policies will serve as a platform to support policymakers in the “design and implementation of evidence-based digitalization policies and strategies.”

Stakeholders caution against broad regulation and “techlash”

Prior to the G20 Ministerial Meeting, a coalition of tech industry associations had expressed their expectations regarding the meeting’s outcome. The group, which includes Digital Europe, the Computer and Communications Industry Association, and the Internet Association, among others, had jointly implored the G20 to “encourage policy approaches that will usher in the next industrial revolution.” More specifically, they recommend specific and narrowly-tailored approaches to new technologies that “protect consumers from actual harm, as speculative regulation can chill innovation.” They also encourage to promote the development of AI, automation, and algorithmic data analysis. The digital ecosystem should be made more resilient by promoting information security and network risk management that is interoperable globally and across sectors, according to the group. Lastly, the tech industry associations strongly caution against trade barriers and other restrictions to market access, as they hamper the growth potential of the digital economy.

In a similar vein, Mozilla, the Internet Society, and The Web foundation have voiced their concern about the current “techlash” in a joint statement. This term, originally coined by the Economist, describes the vehement response to the growing skepticism about the benefits of new technologies and wariness of the power of big tech companies. The statement reads that it should be a “G20 priority to reinject hope into technological innovation.” To this end, the G20 countries should focus their attention on security and privacy in order to reestablish trust in emerging technologies.

Germany to continue dialogue at national and multilateral level

In light of this critical juncture of the digital transformation, the German government will continue the dialogue at the national level, in addition to multilateral formats like the G20. The next “Digital Summit” will be held in in Nuremberg in December 2018; stakeholders from government, academia, business, and civil society will work together to identify challenges and potential solutions relating to the digital economy.

G20 Digital Economy Ministerial Declaration, 24 August 2018