As you may be aware, my Ministry has been entrusted with the responsibility of formulating a national electronic commerce strategy, which is a key element in the repositioning of the Barbados economy and in its capacity building, to enable it to grasp the new economic opportunities of tomorrow. For electronic commerce will essentially reshape the way we do business in our home market as well as with our counterparts in the wider international business community. This, of course, is by no means an easy task, and I readily recognise the need for all stakeholders to get on board.
I however do not see the challenge of formulating an effective national E-commerce strategy, perceived in some quarters as a Herculean task, as insurmountable. In fact, I think that it provides stakeholders from within public and private enterprise with the unique opportunity of mobilising our every resource to develop a national mechanism capable of promoting international competitiveness, through the myriad benefits offered by e-commerce.
Madame Chair, the question that immediately comes to the fore is, “What is electronic commerce and what are the benefits of adopting an e-commerce strategy?”
At the outset, let me state emphatically that I hold no claims to being an industry expert. But as a student of research, I will associate myself with the constructs of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) which broadly defines electronic commerce as, “ the production, advertising, sale and distribution of products via telecommunications networks. It can include any kind of transaction made using digital technology on open networks like the Internet and closed networks such as Electronic Data Interchange (EDI)”.
Electronic commerce is rapidly becoming the principal means by which transactions are conducted and will change the way in which businesses and consumers interact. It provides consumers with the facility to purchase goods, research commodities, bank, invest, communicate and electronically transfer information from anywhere to anywhere globally via the internet. It can also provide empowerment of individuals by providing access to knowledge and education, which had previously been limited to local infrastructure.
So that, with e-commerce there are no restrictions to access, customers can access information anytime across all boundaries, geographical and political and, significantly, consumers and businesses can engage in commercial activity 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
In my view, it also cannot be denied that the dynamics of this rapid paradigm shift, brought about by this new technological age, presents the labour force with exciting opportunities to retool itself with added skills, skills that are e-marketable and competitive.
Ladies and gentlemen there are also significant benefits to be had by you, the business community, of Barbados as a result of an effective e-commerce strategy. These include:
· The reduction of transaction costs by efficiently creating, moving, managing and processing documents, transactions and other forms of communication, which are exchanged between commercial partners.
· There is also a transformation of the relationship between trading partners as a result of more timely, coordinated and accurate electronically processed information flows.
· The opening up of additional channels through which the marketing and selling of goods and services can be done, both at the levels of business-to-business and business-to-customer.
· The simplification and streamlining of business processes thereby reducing delays.
· The facilitation of an expanded client base; and,
· The provision of inexpensive access to marketing information, customer services and order processing
E-Commerce will facilitate the more effective marketing of products and services and enable our educational and health institutions, manufacturers and workers in all other spheres of business to be more competitive on the world stage. It should be noted that e-commerce could especially be beneficial to the small business sector of our economy as an effective resource tool.
Madame Chair, undoubtedly, Government fully understands the role it must play as principal facilitator in Barbados’ national e-commerce drive. Government is therefore committed to the success of this strategy, which rests on the following four planks:
· Firstly, a legislative framework which provides the same legal recognition of business transactions conducted electronically as is the case with paper-based transactions;
· Secondly, a telecommunications environment which provides low cost high speed internet and other telecommunications services;
· Thirdly, an adequate framework for the clearance, through the banking system, of e-commerce transactions; and
· Fourthly, e-Government, that is, Government becoming a model user of e-commerce services.
On March 1, 2001 His Excellency, Sir Clifford Husbands, The Governor General of Barbados, by way of signature, assented to the Electronic Transactions Act, 2001 which established the legal environment for the conduct of electronic commerce and the processing of electronic transactions in Barbados.
This Act features the use and adoption of electronic transactions as a new method of transacting business but does not in any way replace or alter the traditional rules on paper-based communications and, in fact, exceptions have been clearly made and maintained in relation to specific matters such as conveyances, wills, trusts and documents of title. It, however, provides legal coverage for situations where information is electronically generated, stored or sent. The law, generally, reflects the acceptance of electronically recorded documents in matters where formerly, writing was required.
The Act is essentially prepared along the lines of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law’s Model Law, with input from the legislation of other jurisdictions. It sets out among other things:
· The procedures for accreditation, certification and recognition of certification authorities. In this regard it deals with the liability, which an authorised certification service provider may incur and sets out the situations in which the provider is liable to any person who reasonably relied on the certificate.
· The Act also empowers the Minister to make specific regulations in relation to encryption.
· Provision is made for the liability of intermediaries and service providers, including a clear outline of the procedures where the intermediary deals with information that gives rise to civil or criminal liability.
· The Act also seeks to safeguard individual privacy and commercially confidential information except where disclosure is justified, by making improper disclosure an offence. It empowers the Minister to make specific regulations prescribing standards for the processing of personal data whether or not the personal data originates in Barbados.
Mr. Chairman, the second plank on which our national e-commerce strategy is built, and which was alluded to earlier, relates to the area of telecommunications. A new telecommunications reform policy is at the planning stage, and this is aimed at introducing competition in the telecommunications sector, enhancing the technological capabilities of our national and international network and the implementation of a modern regulatory framework, compatible with the technological and business environment of the 21st century.
It is now public knowledge that under this new telecommunications policy there will be a phased-out approach to the monopoly agreement with Cable and Wireless, which will come to an end in the year 2002.
Thirdly, as previously mentioned, the national e-commerce strategy seeks to provide an adequate framework for clearance through the banking system. And, the Banking industry in Barbados is steadily facilitating e-Commerce activities.
The Central Bank of Barbados has the infrastructure in place to facilitate the automated payment system, which would make it easier to complete international financial transactions within a day.
In addressing the issue of e-Government, the Government of Barbados believes that it is imperative that it be the driving force in the development of e-commerce in Barbados. And to this end, the Ministry is overseeing the development of the National Information Technology Strategic Plan, which is the prerequisite to a well planned, and successful e-Government initiative.
You may also be pleased to know that my Ministry, through the Business Development Unit, will be hosting follow-up workshops to this seminar in the near future. These will focus on such areas as e-Visioning, e-Business Planning and Customer Relationship Management on the Internet.
It is believed that such workshops will provide the necessary training to assist you in developing and managing your e-business, and keeping the drive alive.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I encourage you to take advantage of these proceedings here this morning and trust that you will find them enlightening and inspiring.
I thank you.