Sovereign Strategy at the WTO Public Forum 2019

The WTO Public Forum was established to bring together civil society, NGOs, private citizens together with corporate actors and regulators to discuss trade issues in an open setting. Over 1,500 guests attend a week of events, lectures and workshops in the WTO at the heart of Geneva in Switzerland. On the opening day of the 2019 Forum, Tuesday 8 October, Sovereign Strategy joined with Appleton Luff, Intuit, TCube Consulting and techUK to present a panel on the digital economy and young entrepreneurs, specifically considering what the WTO can do differently to support young entrepreneurs in tech who traditionally operate outside of regulation.

So much new business and young business is in tech and start ups that offer digital services instead of goods – e.g. food, furniture or automobiles – and so operate across borders and across different legal and regulatory jurisdictions. These start-ups are difficult to regulate at the international level, and differences of opinion exist as to whether and how to regulate them at the regional and/or national levels. They face many problems, including access to capital and fear of failure due to strict bankruptcy laws in many jurisdictions.

Antoinette Hage from Sovereign Strategy moderated the proceedings, and Sabina Ciofu of techUK, Rob Burlison of Intuit, Arthur Appleton of Appleton Luff and Pallavi Bajaj of TCube offered their brief remarks to set off the discussion. With over 150 people in the room, discussions quickly turned to talk of data rights and data dividends, should the data trade be regionally or internationally regulated, and indeed, do regulators and policymakers do enough to include young entrepreneurs in discussions about young entrepreneurship? Questions came from guests from Norway to Rwanda and China, and despite the vast cultural and social differences across borders, participants and panellists found common ground in the same problems facing entrepreneurs, such as access to finance, the need for regulation to promote competition and questions of data rights and data monopoly. The panel closed the session by setting out its vision for trade regulation and the digital economy which, not surprisingly, supported young entrepreneurship and regulatory reform at the regional and national level, took favourable notice of OECD work in this field, but did not support a strong international regulatory regime.

Sovereign Strategy extends warm thanks to all the panellists and particularly to Arthur Appleton of Appleton Luff for organising. We also contributed an interview to the WTO media, read it here.