OECD Observer ministerial roundtable: Digital economy

What policy actions are you taking to harness the benefits and address the challenges of the digital economy?

Canada, Egypt, France, Mexico, United Kingdom 


Building the innovation mindset

Navdeep Singh Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development

Innovation is on everyone’s mind lately—and for good reason. But what is innovation and why does it matter? Innovation is daring to do things smarter, faster and better to improve our everyday lives. It is a mindset. In today’s fast-changing world, innovation is the key to seizing the opportunities of the digital economy. I believe innovation needs to be one of Canada’s defining values.

We live in transformative times. Technology continues to change all aspects of our lives, reshaping entire economic sectors from computer-networked devices, to artificial intelligence, advanced manufacturing and clean technologies. We have the opportunity to leverage technology and innovation for social good, inclusion and economic growth.

Canada is well placed to succeed in a global digital economy. Our society is inclusive and multicultural. We have a highly educated and connected population, strong public investment in research and development, generous R&D tax incentives, and a solid international reputation for scientific research and discovery. We recognize that innovation is essential in today’s global economy, whether in developing new technologies, processes or business models.

Everyone plays a part in innovation, and Canada has successes to celebrate. But if Canada is going to be a place where our children have the opportunity to succeed and reach their potential, we must act now—and with confidence.

In the coming months, I will lead a government-wide approach to innovation in Canada with a focus on the digital economy. Because the digital economy is global, we must collaborate on an international level as we consider these challenges and opportunities. We must make the leap from a culture of risk aversion to a culture of innovation.

We must leverage our strengths and get to a place where innovation is a core value. My vision is to build Canada into a global centre for innovation, a nation renowned for its science, technology, creativity, entrepreneurial citizens and globally competitive companies. That’s how we will create well-paying jobs, drive growth across all industries and improve the lives of all Canadians.

Visit www.canada.ca/en/innovation-science-economic-development.html


A gateway for our sustainable development plan

Eng. Yasser ElKady, Minister of Communications and Information Technology

Egypt's digital technology sector has promising prospects; it is the second fastest growing economic sector in the country and has the potential to lead the development and growth process on all fronts, especially in an age when the world economy is turning to digital and where information and communications technologies (ICTs) are becoming the cornerstones of our societies.

We recognise that the economy based on ICT and the internet, or "the digital economy", as the OECD Declaration states "... is a powerful catalyst for innovation, growth and social prosperity... promot(ing) a more sustainable and inclusive growth focused on well being and equality of opportunities... ". Our sector is being mobilised in close collaboration with all other sectors towards the fulfilment of the different pillars of our country's Sustainable Development Plan for 2030 including, first, the pillar of social justice. Indeed, as we seek to consolidate a fair and interdependent society characterised by equal economic, social, political rights and opportunities in which social inclusion and support for vulnerable groups are key, our community development programmes using digital technologies are steadily evolving, with entrepreneurship opportunities using ICTs being introduced throughout the country, for instance, and special programmes being launched for youth, children and people with disabilities.

Human resources and skills development in digital technologies form a corner stone of the second pillar of our national plan, and we have adopted ambitious national initiatives as a way to foster "knowledge, innovation and scientific research" and pave the way towards a creative and innovative society. Our incubation and innovation programmes, as well as training programmes, offer a mix of learning and practical knowledge of the market place.  

The third pillar is an economic one, aimed at multiplying the enormous opportunities offered by the sector through new technology parks which we have established throughout the land, especially in underprivileged regions. This pillar is coupled with our electronics manufacturing initiatives and the outsourcing industry. Thanks to different technology applications and support, we ensure subsidies reach the right beneficiaries and while keeping expenditures under control.   

The 4th pillar of our plan focuses on the environmental dimension to preserve natural resources and support their efficient use and investment, so upholding the rights of future generations. For instance, we are putting in place technologies and IoT solutions to help rationalise energy use and preserve natural resources, particularly water.

We have worked steadfastly to unleash the potential of digital technologies based on close collaboration with the different sectors and by consulting a range of stakeholders. We are endeavouring to further develop our infrastructure to keep pace with ICT advances worldwide and with the requirements of the knowledge society and digital economy, as our imminent introduction of 4G communications will testify. We are aware that our ICT sector must be the catalyst for a competitive and dynamic economy, both as part of a global market place and as an enabling platform for business and socio-economic development. That is why we have paid close attention to several fundamental areas, including infrastructure, cyber security and the legislative and policy frameworks, particularly access and e-inclusion which are so essential for a robust digital economy.

We have many challenges ahead including keeping pace with the modernisation of our infrastructure to fulfil the rising appetite of our citizenry for digital technologies and systems, and strengthening trust and security, notably with our draft legislation on cyber crime that is currently being discussed in parliament.       

Visit www.mcit.gov.eg


Forging a digital society

Axelle Lemaire, Secretary of State for the Digital Economy

Digital innovation is an opportunity—for governments, for business, for the public, and for the way in which they relate to each other.

Digital technology is providing new tools that are revolutionising institutional relationships and the way society operates, empowering individuals, and their ability to both participate in and contribute to decision-making and production. Examples abound, ranging from the use of social media in spawning democratic movements, the pooling of resources with regard to housing and transport, to public involvement in decision-making on municipal spending or proposed legislation.

We are currently experiencing the accelerated transformation of a centralised economy based on scarce resources into an economy of abundance, one that is decentralised, connected, and data-driven. France now faces the challenge of preparing that future in order to keep up with this innovation and the development of these new models by providing full territorial coverage for mobile telephones and high-speed internet connections, data infrastructure for use by public and private data providers, increasingly open access to knowledge and support for those who are digitally disadvantaged. This is what lies at the heart of the bill that I am proposing in France, a law that defines a digital Republic, a law designed to bring every part of the governmental operating system into the digital age. This is an ambition that must also be developed and built upon at European level.

In the interests of democracy and transparency, it is of paramount importance that governments allow access to their data. Produced and stored by the state, this information represents a vital resource that can stimulate economic and social innovation in a digital society.

France is determined to lead by example, and has allowed access to the national register of companies and their sites in all sectors of the economy. Nine million entities are listed, making this database the most complete record of French businesses in the country. The current paywall will be taken down as of the first quarter of 2017. Making data available in this way fuels the development of innovative new activities: in the Netherlands, for example, free access to meteorological data led to the creation of a dynamic ecosystem of professional re-users, whose activities have generated a return of €35 million for the Dutch government.

Access to public data also helps to improve public policies: France released the source code for its income tax calculation software, and within 48 hours a team of young developers had suggested a way to optimise the algorithm and cut the time taken to calculate a simulation by a thousand.

Developing our fledgling digital businesses will take different forms of financing from those used to developing more traditional activities. The support given to French start-ups, for example, has seen a dedicated investment programme rolled out through a state-owned bank, and this has played a central role in defining how the start-up ecosystem is financed. The results are impressive, with a 100% increase in value from the €897 million raised in 2014 to €1.8 billion in 2015.

But innovation cannot happen on command, either in the digital industry or anywhere else. The role of the State is essentially to make sure conditions are right. One priority is to promote ecosystems of young digital businesses, at every stage of their development, at the national and international level. This is the idea behind the creation of French Tech, an initiative with a straightforward label designed to bring our innovator community in France together.

Not all companies are start-ups, however, nor are they all at home in the digital world, and some need support. French businesses are certainly well equipped with digital technology: 99% had high-speed internet access at the end of 2013, but just 64% of SMEs had a website, and a paltry 25% were selling their products online. In the digital age, businesses that are not online cannot compete on the market. Here again, the state has a role to play on the ground, through local representatives, raising awareness and guiding these companies as they master digital technologies.

An industrial revolution is taking place. But it can only happen if everybody in society plays their part. There needs to be full internet coverage throughout the land, for both PC and mobile, if we are all to enjoy the growing potential of the digital world. Not only because needs are increasing in terms of network capacity and frequencies, but also and mostly because too many people are excluded from the digital world.

This shift will also materialise through training in these technologies. Demand is rising for new skills, and entrepreneurs will tell you that it is hard to find the right people. To create these jobs in the new sectors being created by digital business, training needs to be redesigned.

The digital world moves fast. It cannot be reversed or halted. It can help face major challenges such as social and economic fragmentation, or reduce unemployment, for example. But how can it achieve this if access is limited to the privileged few? Connection to internet will naturally become a right. The state must assist those who are least likely to have online access, and those who are least likely to use these technologies, and it must help them to do so.

This is how we can continue to build our society.



Digital Mexico

Alejandra Lagunes, National Digital Strategy Coordinator

Under this administration we made the bold decision of building a Digital Mexico in which technology and innovation would contribute to maximise their economic and social impacts. As a first and crucial step, in 2013 we reformed the Federal Law of Telecommunications in order to design an innovative and competitive regulatory framework to connect citizens and to insert Mexico into the Information Society, building an ecosystem in which the ITCs become true enablers of our development goals.

The reform recognises access to internet as a fundamental human right and as the tool that represents the backbone for the digital economy. Furthermore, we have made a significant effort to increase the internet’s economic potential, particularly for small business as a powerful catalyst for innovation and economic growth.

Aware of this challenge, the President of Mexico launched the National Digital Strategy with the aim of harnessing the potential of ICTs as a catalyst for development. With five crucial objectives (government transformation, promoting a more inclusive and solid digital economy, transforming education through technology, enhance universal health-care, and encourage civic innovation and participation), the National Digital Strategy aims to make Mexico “the leading country in digitalisation in Latin America”.

To foster digital economy, the National Digital Strategy is working at the national level in: developing a national e-commerce Strategy focusing on effective regulation and enhanced competitiveness; creating a more competitive market for digital goods and services; encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship through the democratisation of public spending; and promoting financial inclusion through mobile banking systems.

We have also advanced an open data policy that promotes timely and disaggregated data, supporting the creation of new markets, businesses and jobs. We are also working to support entrepreneurs with more efficient ways of creating a business, simplifying fiscal systems and reducing the number of requirements throughout the National One-stop shop, www.gob.mx.

At an international level, Mexico leads in crucial international fora; through the eLAC2018 mechanism, we coordinate the regional Digital Agenda; as the next host the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), we encourage a space where government and civil society exchange best practices; and through the Open Government Partnership (OGP) we have placed transparency and innovation as central tools to create more responsive governments.

In Mexico we are convinced of the transformative power of technology therefore, we will keep working to enable a more modern, inclusive and digital economy that improves our citizens well-being.

Visit www.gob.mx

United Kingdom

Towards a digital strategy

Baroness Neville-Rolfe DBE CMG

Given the pace of change, soon it may no longer make sense to speak about the “digital” economy, as it will simply be part of the “everyday” economy.

In the UK, the digital revolution is in full swing, bringing with it tremendous changes, opportunities and challenges. There has been remarkably strong growth in the UK digital sector since 2010, placing it at the heart of the country’s economic and social life; adding billions of pounds in gross value added (GVA) to the economy; and being responsible for nearly one and a half million jobs in 2014. 

We are also seeing an extraordinary process of convergence: traditional industries like consumer electronics, health care, domestic heating and banking are beginning to add as much value in their technology as in the original product or service. 

All this makes it even more critical that we work together to address the opportunities and challenges of the digital revolution from the outset.

While it clearly has been a unique generation of innovators and entrepreneurs who have led this revolution, I believe that governments have a crucial role to play in creating the right environment for businesses to flourish and for citizens to reap the benefits. So, in the UK, we support a range of institutions to help digital businesses to grow and to promote innovation, as well as the development of emerging technologies such as the Internet of Things, with the added benefit of drawing on an excellent academic and research base.

The UK Government will shortly be publishing a Digital Strategy that will set out measures to ensure that the UK is at the forefront of digital transformation and remains a place of choice for entrepreneurs to start and grow new digital businesses. We are focusing on four key areas:

  • Digital Economy: We will unlock growth and productivity in the digital economy, by removing barriers to innovation, championing the tech sector and promoting the adoption of new technology across every sector.
  • Digital Government: We will lead by example on the digitisation of Government, recasting the relationship between citizen and state and making it simpler, faster and cheaper to interact with government.
  • Digital Society: We will realise the benefits of a digital society, where technology has transformed everyday life–from how we teach our children to how we police our streets.
  • Digital Foundations: We will underpin this digital transformation, creating world-class digital infrastructure, preparing individuals for the future by investing in digital skills, and building digital trust.

While we are of course keen to support the UK through this “digital revolution”, we fully recognise that technology and innovation do not respect borders. Indeed, many economic and social opportunities lie in open technology, open dialogue and open digital economies.

The UK therefore welcomes the contribution of the OECD, by providing the analysis that will help show a clear way forward and bringing governments together to have an open dialogue and share best practice. The ultimate aim is to ensure all our economies and citizens reap the benefits, but understand the challenges accompanying the digital revolution.


©OECD Observer No 307 Q3 2016

Economic data

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Unemployment: 7.3% Sep 2020
Last update: 10 Nov 2020

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