Friday 18 January 2019

Online Platform Restrictions and Small Firm Exports

Stricter rules on online platforms restrain potential trade, especially for smaller businesses. This is because online platforms facilitate export and import by lowering transaction and information costs. Ultimately, restrictions on online platforms limit the capacity of the ICT sector more generally to contribute to the overall economy.

A recent study by McDaniel and Parks (2019) shows that, among those businesses that export, the share of firms using Facebook can be high for some countries. For instance, in Czech Republic, Portugal, Turkey, and South Korea more than 15 percent of businesses that export are also on Facebook. This share is even higher for small and medium sized firms (SMEs). Therefore, it seems that the use of online platforms such as Facebook creates a stronger propensity to export compared to other firms.

Once a firm finds itself on a digital platform such as Facebook, its presence can help to create visibility and to capitalize on the platform’s online network, eventually reducing information and search costs for companies and consumers. According to the study, some developing countries profit the most from being present on Facebook. In Bangladesh and Pakistan, for instance, 20 and 18 percent of businesses that export are also present on this social app.

However, to make use of online platforms is not always an easy task. Certain policies inhibit companies from accessing online platforms, especially foreign ones. These policies often create unnecessary costs for businesses, particularly for smaller firms as they make it difficult to intensify exporting abroad. Moreover, and perhaps even more importantly, the presence of online platforms themselves is not a given in some countries reducing the ability of small firms to promote their businesses online in the first place.

This phenomenon is a problem if we consider an increasingly strict regulatory environment for online platforms. In a recent study by me and my co-author Martina Ferracane, we show that this is actually true for quite a number of countries.

The study maps the regulatory environment for online platforms in terms of trade restrictiveness for 64 countries. More precisely, we measure the online platform trade restrictiveness using the information available in the Digital Trade Estimates database, from which we have already developed the Digital Trade Restrictiveness Index (DTRI). By selecting only those policy measures that affect online platforms and by finetuning the methodology, we have created the Digital Platform Restrictiveness Index (DPRI).