islamabad                -         Despite advances in some areas of technology policy, Pakistan has not been able to take advantage of the myriad opportunities that a digital future holds, due to a lack of robust policy direction. The Ministry of Commerce published Pakistan’s e-commerce policy in October 2019 to address this lack of direction. In its working paper titled “Transforming Transaction: Does Pakistan’s e-Commerce Policy Deliver?” public policy think tank Tabadlab explores the strengths and weaknesses of this e-commerce policy.

Authored by technology policy expert Anum Malkani, the report takes a deep look at Pakistan’s existing policy landscape to support digital transformation, and specifically e-commerce.

As the world digitizes at breakneck speed, the statistics suggest that Pakistan may be left behind unless proactive policies are implemented to increase digital access and catalyze digital transformation of the economy. Since the current government came into office, there have been a number of welcome developments, with the publication of three discrete policy documents to support e-commerce and Pakistan’s ability to play catch-up in the Fourth Industrial Revolution: The Digital Pakistan Policy of 2018, the Digital Payment and National Payments Strategy 2019 and the E-Commerce Policy Framework 2019. Unfortunately, the creation of organizational silos has resulted in fragmented policy direction. Despite some progress there remains ambiguity on the current status and future direction of key issues such as data protection, digitization of the economy, especially digital financial transactions, and foreign direct investment (FDI) in ecommerce.

Analyzing the e-commerce policy itself, the working paper identifies some crucial fixes to existing gaps that threaten the realization of Pakistan’s e-commerce potential. These recommendations include the development of a coherent roadmap with key milestones, timelines and mechanisms to track, monitor and evaluate progress by the National e-Commerce Council. Without proper planning and funding, these initiatives are at risk of never being launched, or being poorly executed, or being abandoned before completion.

There also needs to be clarity on the allocation, availability and deployment of funding to fast-track the proposed interventions as numerous recommendations involve significant outlays in terms of human and financial resources to be effective in achieving the desired objectives.

The working paper categorically recommends areas of prioritization that will help transform digital transactions. These include strengthening the digital payment ecosystems to drive up digital transactions, a clear taxation policy with regards to local and international e-commerce, and promoting access to international markets through bilateral and multilateral agreements.