Yangchen C Rinzin 

The Covid-19 pandemic is an opportunity for Bhutan to build digital platforms and e-commerce is one of the components the country can adopt, according to the Diagnostic Trade Integration Study Update (DTISU) 2020.

Although Bhutan has made positive strides in developing its national e-commerce ecosystem, it has not fully tapped into the potential of e-commerce, it found.

The report states that Bhutan is still at the early stages of its digitisation journey, but the country could engage with the international community to analyse and replicate successful digital practices in other countries and fast-track e-commerce transformation.

In order to assist Bhutan to strengthen its e-commerce capabilities to build upon the foundations the government has built, the department of trade and UNDP recommended the government have national e-commerce awareness campaigns.

This was because it was found that many Bhutanese still do not grasp the concept of e-commerce or are aware that such services exist in Bhutan.

“Developing government’s comprehensive e-commerce awareness campaigns to deliver through existing communication channels to communities about various e-commerce,” the report recommended.

It stated the objective of the campaign should be to promote trust among the community in e-commerce platforms and digital solutions. This was because there was still a low level of trust in digital transactions due to frequent internet disruptions occurring due to discrepancies in the fibre-optics network.

“The biggest hurdles in using e-commerce is returning products, which is a tedious process,” the report found. “High postage and insurance costs associated with deliveries also discourage people from using e-commerce.”

Increased access to credit cards and digital payment solutions was another recommendation the study made. The banks have issued credit cards to citizens to promote the adoption of digital finance, but many find it difficult to obtain a credit card.

Although Bhutan has embarked on the ICTs and e-commerce in its various strategic policies and vision, there was no dedicated e-commerce strategy to establish an e-commerce ecosystem.

The study also recommends the government prioritise the development of schemes and incentives to equip institutions like schools with IT equipment such as computers and tablets at the national level.

This is to complement the provision of core ICT equipment and develop essential skills programmes.

After start-up e-commerce platforms were scaled up to encourage Bhutanese communities to go digital, communities had a low adoption and utilisation rate.

The report stated that the government should analyse popular start-ups to determine the requirement and promote digitisation.

It also recommended developing e-commerce and e-procurement platforms for pilot community centre network. Although each gewog has a community centre, many lacked digital services because of different levels of access to essential IT infrastructure.

Therefore, the report has suggested the government identify community centres that are “digitally ready” to be clustered into a network.

“This can be used as a pilot project for the development of a dedicated of e-commerce and e-procurement platform,” it stated.


E-commerce policy

As the country embarks on a 21st-century economic roadmap, e-commerce is considered an important component of the economy, which is why the government has drafted the E-commerce Policy 2020.

The draft is currently with the Gross National Happiness Commission.

The policy is grounded in five pillars designed to ensure equal access for all citizens, increased trust, the removal of potential barriers to adoption, the implementation of e-commerce governance consistent with international norms and standards, and a positive business environment that encourages investment and market participation.

The policy covers almost all the recommendations made by the DTISU 2020, which are categorised into five pillars like access and education, trust in e-commerce, barriers to adoption, e-commerce governance and policy, and e-commerce business development.

The policy is aimed at fostering an appropriate national e-commerce policy framework, which is up-to-date, compatible and facilitates all e-commerce initiatives including the government-led ePayment system for Bhutan.

Of the many important components of e-commerce that will contribute to the success and growth of e-commerce, trust in e-commerce is a must, more than just a world-class network and technical infrastructure.

The policy would look into the trust in e-commerce like consumer protection, data protection and privacy, cybersecurity, intellectual property, copyright, and trademark and geographical indications.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk