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Thursday, September 10, 1998 Published at 13:37 GMT 14:37 UK


Business: The Economy

Mandelson plans e-commerce boost

There are plans for the UK to lead the world in Internet commerce

In his first major speech as the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry Peter Mandelson has promised the government is dedicated to making the UK the world leader in electronic commerce.

He said there would be new legislation to promote e-commerce "as soon as parliamentary time allows".

Speaking at a conference on digital technology Mr Mandelson said: "It was 38 years before radio users numbered 50 million. It has taken only four years to get the same number on the Internet. So the potential prize is enormous, if we get the regulatory framework right."

Encryption problems


[ image: California dreaming: Mr Mandelson is to visit 'silicon valley']
California dreaming: Mr Mandelson is to visit 'silicon valley'
A priority area for the government is clearing up the legal problems related to encryption.

Encryption is a mathematical process that uses formulas to scramble information and make it unreadable to anyone who might intercept it.

But governments believe it is essential that they have access to electronic information to prevent cybercrime and terrorism.

Business leaders have said this demand stunts electronic commerce.

Mr Mandelson said that the new regulations would also deal with other important issues like intellectual property rights and the validity of digital signatures.

Britain lags behind

In keeping with the aim of boosting e-commerce, Mr Mandelson said the government had pledged that 90% of its routine purchases would be made electronically by 2001.

But he also warned that too many businesses were still not taking advantage of the Internet.

"Only 49% of UK employees work for firms with Internet access, compared with 73% in Japan.

"And only 13% of UK businesses with a web site use it for online trading, while 29% do so in US. We must do better," he said.

Digital leaders

Mr Mandelson also pledged that the new legislation would help make the UK become the "digital laboratory" of Europe.

"We must be the test bed for digital products and services in Europe, so that UK consumers have access to these first and British business can lead the world," he said.

More details next month

To get tips on how to boost Britain's success Mr Mandelson is planning to travel to the Silicon Valley, California, next month on a fact-finding mission.

Also next month, Barabara Roche, a junior trade and industry minister, will unveil more concrete details about the DTI's policy on e-commerce at a conference in Canada.

But any new legislation in the UK will have to wait at least until the next parliamentary session, which begins in November.



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