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Expert notes achievements in burgeoning sector, but says challenges remain

By ZHANG YUE | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2021-12-01 10:06
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Economists who have devoted decades of study in the field of e-commerce have witnessed both the tremendous changes that e-commerce has brought to China's economic landscape, as well as the unevenness of growth in the sector.

Yao Guozhang, a professor and head of the Research Institute of Digital Economy at Nanjing University of Posts and Telecommunications, began his research on e-commerce in the late 1990s when the concept was largely unknown.

Prior to that, Yao worked in corporate marketing and technology departments. It was this experience that sparked his interest in e-commerce.

Over the past two decades, he has written extensively on the development of China's e-commerce, noting that it has been fast and robust, growing from a relatively unimportant sector to one that has become a key indicator.

However, development has been uneven, and he says there is plenty of room for more improvement.

Data from the Ministry of Commerce released earlier this year showed that China's online retail sales rose from 8.5 trillion yuan ($1.3 trillion) in 2019 to 9.8 trillion yuan last year, a 14.8 percent increase year-on-year.

A recently released guideline on e-commerce development further noted that the sector accomplished a great deal during the 13th Five-Year Plan period (2016-20).

China has been the world's largest online retail market for eight years straight, and e-commerce is an important form of consumption, it stated.

Transaction volume surged from 21.8 trillion yuan in 2015 to 37.2 trillion yuan last year, and more than 60 million people nationwide are working in the sector.

Also, e-commerce has created many new occupations and job positions, greatly contributing to overall economic development.

However, the guideline stated that the sector still faces problems in China, including uneven development and lax regulation. The issue of monopolies and unfair competition between online platforms has also become acute.

Yao agrees that monopolies are a problem, hindering domestic competition and the growth of smaller companies.

He suggested that authorities take action to tackle these issues. For example, the systems determining taxes levied for online and offline transactions should be unified, he said.

"It is important to foster a fairer climate for competition and operation to encourage more offline business owners to develop parallel online businesses," he said.

"Technological assistance should also be provided to smaller and micro businesses in particular to help them remove technical hurdles to growing their businesses online," he said.

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