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World Trade Report 2020

Government Policies to Promote Innovation in the Digital Age

image of World Trade Report 2020

In the digital age, a growing number of governments have adopted policies aimed at boosting growth through innovation and technological upgrading. The World Trade Report 2020 looks at these trends and at how trade and the WTO fit with them. A defining feature of government policies adopted in recent years has been their support of the transition towards a digital economy. Trade and trade policies have historically been important engines for innovation. In particular, the multilateral trading system has contributed significantly to the global diffusion of innovation and technology by fostering predictable global market conditions and by underpinning the development of global value chains. As data become an essential input in the digital economy, firms rely more on intangible assets than on physical ones, and digital firms are able to reach global markets faster without the amount of physical investment previously necessary in other sectors. Success in the digital economy will depend on openness, access to information and communication technology (ICT) goods and services, collaboration on research projects, and the diffusion of knowledge and new technology. The World Trade Report 2020 shows that there is a significant role for international cooperation to make the pursuit of digital development and technological innovation more effective, while minimizing negative spill-overs from national policies. The WTO agreements, reached a quarter of a century ago, have proved to be remarkably forwardlooking in providing a framework that has favoured the development of ICT-enabled economies across all levels of development. Further international cooperation at the WTO and elsewhere would enable continued innovation and reduce trade tensions to help international markets function more predictably.

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Defining innovation-oriented government policies and their evolution in the digital age

Since the 2008-09 financial crisis, industrial employment in some economies has seen accelerated decline and international competition in mature industrial sectors has tightened; the evolution of productivity and wages has slowed; and a new economy enabled by digital technologies has emerged. In this context, industrial and innovation policies have undergone renewal, and these “new industrial policies” are reflecting a duality inherent to all government policy phases, as they aim to address the difficult modernization of traditional industries, while also aiming to bring about an adaptation of economies to digitalization.

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