New information technologies are among the moving forces of economic development around the globe. A United Nations study says many developing countries can benefit from these technologies.
The U.N. report shows the Internet is opening new business opportunities in developing countries. Kenya's farmers use the Internet to sell coffee beans in Japan, and India is becoming a powerhouse as a call center for U.S. companies.
Last year, the U.N. report finds, 32 percent of the world's nearly 600 million Internet users were in developing countries. And that number could grow by 50 percent by 2008.
UNCTAD deputy Secretary-General Carlos Fortin says great benefits can accrue to poor countries that become part of the information society.
"The message is, information and communication technologies can be a major adjunct to developing policy and a major instrument for development," he said. "This is an area of great interest to developing countries, and confirms that we should make an effort to identify ways in which we can help developing countries improve their access and their presence in the field of information and communications technologies."
The report finds some developing countries are using the Internet to reach markets for their agricultural produce that would be inaccessible to them without such technology. It says the farmers are able to sell directly, avoiding the middlemen, and keeping a greater share of the profits.
It notes India, with its skilled English-speaking workforce and salaries up to 80 percent lower than in developed countries, has captured a dominant share of the international outsourcing market. It says other emerging economies are able to attract similar business, including Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Romania, Russia and Vietnam.
Still, the report says, the vast amount of the $300 billion-a-year electronic commerce takes place in the developed countries, and what it calls the digital divide between the rich and poor countries may even widen.
The United Nations says one way to help span the gap is to make computers and software more accessible to users in the developing countries.