NZ scores low in e-business readiness

So I went to an APEC CEO meeting about e-commerce which was enlightening, if only for the questions the non-IT journalists asked. Taxation issues ranked highly, with questions directed at a panel consisting of Ralph Norris from ASB Bank as chair; Paul Song, CEO of Aris Corporation, a US-based consulting and software development house; Derek Williams, senior vice-president at Oracle and David Barnes from IBM.

So I went to an APEC CEO meeting about e-commerce which was enlightening, if only for the questions the non-IT journalists asked. Taxation issues ranked highly, with questions directed at a panel consisting of Ralph Norris from ASB Bank as chair; Paul Song, CEO of Aris Corporation, a US-based consulting and software development house; Derek Williams, senior vice-president at Oracle and David Barnes from IBM. The main response from all panellists, and from Bill Clinton himself I heard later, was that e-commerce should be free from all tariffs permanently. E-commerce is, of course, the best example of what APEC is all about — trade that is free from regulatory barriers. One reporter asked how governments would make any money at all if the tax take was reduced by consumers shopping at overseas’ destinations — a very good question. Would e-commerce lead to the breakdown of the nation state that has been around for centuries? Nothing so dramatic, was the reply. Nations would still be able to tax goods as they do today, but no additional taxes, in the form of duty or tariffs, should be imposed. Nevil Gibson from The National Business Review said Jim Anderton was right all along and that we should institute a transaction tax. Song alluded to one of the Internet’s greatest conundrums: its potential to widen the gap between "haves" and "have nots" while at the same time providing so much information to so many people worldwide. It’s the first time I’ve heard anyone at that level address this fundamentally important issue, albeit fleetingly. For a look at that whole debate, find a copy of John Brunner’s novel, The Shockwave Rider. He wrote it in the mid-1970s but it’s eerily accurate about the impact of the Internet, not to mention viruses, worms and their kin. Oracle’s Williams talked about governments needing to "lead by example" in this area and he unintentionally repeated a lot of the things Labour’s Paul Swain spoke about at a New Zealand Information Security Forum meeting earlier on this month. IBM’s Barnes stressed the need to get the legislation right now, rather than trying to fix it all in committee in a few years’ time. He also talked about the problems of encryption technology and the way different nations (sorry, "economies") consider the idea. He claimed many economies have a problem with the idea of encryption because, in part, of the way their societies are structured. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the US the main force behind the Wassenaar Arrangement which limits the exportation of strong encryption? Maybe that’s what he meant. The most interesting point to come out of the session, however, was the Readiness Assessment Tool — a guide to help "economies" decide whether they are ready for

e-commerce or not. Russell Brown has more on this in his guest editorial (left). We score poorly in a number of areas: our telecommunications scores at the bottom of the heap for regulation (we don’t have any) and our copyright laws have yet to embrace the electronic age. As for skills and human resources, New Zealand is well behind on almost every point, from schools online to closer cooperation between education and commerce to access the latest technologies. Issues like digital signatures have yet to be discussed in government and it’s still not illegal to steal money from a bank so long as you remove it electronically. I guess we still have a long way to go to become even an average player in the knowledge-based economy. Paul Brislen is Computerworld’s Y2K  reporter. He can be reached at paul_brislen@idg.co.nz, or phone: 0-9-377 902. For publication copy letters to cw_letters@idg.co.nz

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