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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 November, 2003, 17:02 GMT
Poor 'miss out' on net commerce
Mobile phone and price list, BBC
Technology can help farmers get better prices for their crops
Developing nations are missing out on the economic benefits of e-commerce warns a report from the United Nations.

It said that poverty, poor health, illiteracy and slow net links deprived many nations of the advantages enjoyed by more advanced economies.

The report said that e-commerce was a powerful force for development that poorer nations should embrace.

It said it can help boost economies, create jobs and even help farmers find better markets for what they produce.

Inequality rules

"This is a very powerful development tool," said Carlos Fortin, deputy secretary-general of the UN Conference on Trade and Development unveiling its 2003 E-Commerce and Development Report.

The report revealed that at the end of last year, 32% of the world's 591 million net users lived in the developing world. A year earlier, developing nations accounted for 28% of these users.

But this still means that net users remain rare in poorer nations. In Nigeria, for instance, only 17 out of every 10,000 inhabitants are online.

The picture is even bleaker when statistics for who produces net content are considered.

Unsurprisingly, North America dominates accounting for 75% of all internet hosts. By contrast the figure for Africa is 0.2%.

Coffee beans, BBC
Kenyan coffee farmers are already using the net
"Developing countries are not taking advantage of this at the moment," said Mr Fortin, "not necessarily through their own fault but through a very complex set of circumstances."

The report said the well-known problems of poverty, poor health and patchy training programmes stop developing nations making greater use of e-commerce. But other factors contributed too.

It said that computers were still rare in many nations, net connections were slow, hard to find and expensive and many countries have to pay high fees to maintain links to neighbouring nations.

But the report said there were huge opportunities for nations who did commit to e-commerce.

It cited examples of Western nations outsourcing support and call centres because of the lower labour costs as one way for developing nations to take advantage of the efficiencies of e-commerce.

But it said that governments can help to get people using the net and e-commerce by putting in place training programmes, broadening net access and using cheap software, such as Linux, for key infrastructure.

It said that often it can be cheaper to set up a website to sell goods than run a shop.

Some nations such as Brazil, Guatemala and Kenya were already using e-commerce using the net to find better prices for their coffee and tea crops and bypassing the traders who typically take much of the profit.

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