This research work was carried out with financial and scientific support from the UNOSSC and UNDP under the ‘South-South Global Thinkers – the Global Coalition of Think Tank Networks for SSC’ initiative. The paper is authored by Dr. Vaqar Ahmed, Joint Executive Director, and Mr.  Maaz Javed of Sustainable Development Policy Institute. 


This study presents a pathway for fostering regional digital trade integration through South-South and Triangular cooperation. Our main study goals include answering the following questions:

  • What are the challenges faced in the digital trade sector of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka? How can these be overcome through various cooperative models?
  • How can inclusive regional and free trade agreements help to overcome barriers and enable digital trade integration?
  • What can Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) dealing with digital trade-related products learn from literature on South-South and Triangular cooperation?
  • How could South-South and Triangular cooperation help in reducing risks in digital trade, for example as a result of digital security issues or other shocks?
  • How could South-South and Triangular cooperation be effective in leveraging the potential advantages available to firms in the digital sector during normal and in
  • testing times?
  • Why do the public sectors in selected countries tend to be significantly behind in terms of digital usage in comparison to the private sector and general populations?
  • To examine the factors that help to optimize interoperability between the public/private sectors and how digital uptake from the public sector can be expedited.
  • Factors like change managed issues, with public sector avoiding digital integration for fear of losing jobs to digital.

The COVID-19 pandemic has generated an urgency to look at digital trade integration as a measure that could help governments and the public pivot better. For example, improvements in digital connectivity at home and across borders are helping trading firms cut their costs and enhance export volumes, which in turn positively impacts job market outcomes. Common and harmonized rules to assist cross-border digital trade, especially a provision creating a trusted environment for digital exchanges, provide swift and timely knowledge-sharing. These potential benefits are sometimes also overlooked by governments due to perceived online security threats and high costs associated with the mitigation of such risks.

This report provides recommendations on exploring the potential ways in which South-South and Triangular cooperation could help digital trade integration. In that regard, the authors have examined bilateral and multilateral cooperation in South Asia and how such cooperative arrangements help the digital trade integration process. They have studied the current state of digital trade in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. A review of provisions in domestic policies related to digital trade integration and the impact of digital platforms has been conducted for these countries. 

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