Despite the volatile global economy with war and strife on all five continents, the planet is rapidly moving toward accord – online at least!

According to the latest projections from the Geneva-headquartered United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the number of internet users will reach 655 million this year – equivalent to 10% of the entire global population and a thirty-one per cent increase on 2001.

The data comes from UNCTAD’s annual Ecommerce and Development Report, which calculates that sales of goods and services via the internet could reach $2.3 billion (€2.27bn; £1.45bn) this year, 50% up on 2001 and on target to hit $3.9bn by the end of 2003.

Although around a third of new users in 2001 came from developing nations, it will surprise no-one to learn that the vast majority of surfers hail from the wealthier northern hemisphere. During 2001 respective growth rates by continent were …

North America – 10%
Latin America – 33%
Europe – 33%
Africa – 43%
Asia – 44%

The USA predictably tops the usage table with almost 143 million surfers, lagged by China with around 56.6m. Another vast nation coming up fast on the rails is India where growth hit 25% last year and one in every 147 of the estimated one billion population is now online. [Little wonder Bill Gates is courting the nation with such assiduity.]

Ecommerce is prospering pole-to-pole despite economic stagnation in the US and elsewhere, although business-to-business ecommerce has yet to take-off in developing countries. The US accounts for almost 45% of ecommerce revenues, western Europe about 25% and Japan some 15%.

Developing countries account for just 6.7%, mainly in the Asia-Pacific region, with the rest accounting for just one per cent. In Africa business-to-business e-commerce outside South Africa is “almost negligible”.

The growing globalization of business casts an interesting – worrisome some might say – light on the shift of production, particularly in the IT sector.

According to the UNCTAD report, hardware and software products now account for a greater proportion of exports from developing nations than the old stables of agricultural, textile and clothing products in aggregate. The report attributes this trend to the truffling for cheap labour by multinational corporations.

Data sourced from: BBC Online Business News (UK); additional content by WARC staff