Business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce is widely believed to promise a radical change in the way that firms trade with one another. B2B e-commerce applications are being promoted as tools that will enable producer firms in developing countries to reduce their costs substantially, thereby easing their access to global markets. The vision of B2B e-commerce is driven by a simple idea. The Internet provides an open global network and access to this network is relatively cheap. Internet-based B2B e-commerce should help producers in developing countries obtain better information on global markets and give them direct access to new customers.
The key question is: does the implementation of Internet-based B2B e-commerce actually lead to new trading opportunities for producer firms in developing countries? Some of the hype has gone out of the Internet debate, but policy makers and development assistance organisations continue to have a very optimistic view about the potential of the Internet and information and communication technologies (ICTs), more generally. They are concentrating on removing the obstacles that hold back the use of ICTs by developing country firms. Helping these firms to bridge the ‘digital divide’ and take advantage of ‘digital opportunities’ is a very high priority.
This project examines the expectations and assumptions behind this drive to invest in ICTs and B2B e-commerce, in particular. We arrive at an alternative set of conclusions about the appropriate priorities for policy and action. These come from investigating what actually happens on the Internet and from talking to producers and other stakeholders in developing countries who are involved in international trade and in some types of B2B e-commerce.