ISLAMABAD: Experts at a webinar stressed the need for data security and stringent cyberlaws for greater facilitation in the field of e-commerce in Pakistan. The webinar was organized by Sustainable Development Policy Institute. In his introductory note, SDPI Executive Director Dr Abid Qaiyum Suleri called upon the security of country’s financial data, which, he said, is also the demand of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). Though our institutions like FIA are working on data security, t it needs a robust response, he added. Telecom companies, he maintained, are also bound to protect the privacy of users’ personal data. Stressing the need for widening the networks and reach of the broadbands across the country, Dr Suleri said it would not only give impetus to our digital trade but also provide equal opportunities for online businesses to all and sundry. Muhammad Bilal Abbasi, Director (IT), Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication, said that instead of focusing on the traditional import destinations, like the US, we need to widen our import markets. He also emphasized on the importance of binding the online companies of Pakistan to bring the money back to Pakistan which they earn through online businesses. “It will increase our remittances pool,” he said, adding that we are working on establishing special technological zones to facilitate the foreign investors. He recalled the ministry is conducting training workshops to enhance the skills of the youth, working to erect a technological park in Islamabad and developing real estate businesses in the telecom sector with the Public-Private Partnerships. Mehmood ul Hassan, Deputy Director, Cybercrime Wing, Federal Investigation Agency, highlighting the challenges the digital service users face in Pakistan, said that the most common are the identity theft and hacking. He said that only in 2019, FIA received more than 12,000 complaints regarding e-commerce and online trading. In order to bring the cybercrime cases in the police jurisdiction, the agency has moved a law in parliament, he said and added that public also needs to be made aware of the safe use of online trade, commerce, and banking. Dr Vaqar Ahmed, SDPI Joint Executive Director, opined that many firms often lack cybersecurity and data protection infrastructure, so they need a customized solution. Our regulatory policies and laws must be in cognizance with the peers’ economies so that our enterprises remain competitive and our regime easy to understand foreign investors, he said. The sectors, such as e-gaming and e-sports which are so far untouched, also need government intervention in terms of capacity building and encouragement. He said the lukewarm and untimely response of the state apparatus in alleviating the fears and addressing the complaints of the online business community and users has also been proved a discouraging factor in digitization process. Fawad Niazi, Senior Manager, Regulatory Strategy & Compliance, UFONE, said that soon after the COVID-19, online businesses saw a surge, however, it further needs to be facilitated and all the fears of users and e-commerce individuals should be removed by framing more active cybersecurity and data protection laws. He added that it will also facilitate foreign investors and prove instrumental in bringing our online economy at par with the peers’ economies. Muneeb Sikander, the Strategic Planning Expert, said that we need not only to comply with the Global Trade Facilitation Agreement but also to digitize our agriculture sector by providing safe, secure and cheap broadband internet to farmers. Moreover, Patwari system should be replaced with an alternative digital system, he said. Samar Hasan, the Co-Founder & CEO of Epiphany, was of the opinion that Pakistan’s freelancing industry needs facilitation in terms of data protection, capacity building, infrastructure development. “Similarly, we also need to facilitate foreign investors, especially in the gaming industry by easing the cumbersome processes of money transfer and money deposits. ” She further said that the government facilitation in the e-sport sector is direly needed, as it has a great potential. Stressing the need for provision of uninterrupted internet to all areas of Pakistan and the inclusion of women based micro-enterprises, she called for introducing women digital literacy programmes. Maaz Javed from SDPI shared the result of the survey conducted by SDPI on digital trade challenges being faced by private businesses. He said that the lack of structured mechanism to respond to queries of foreign investors is a major stumbling block in the way of digitization and e-commerce in Pakistan.