By Dr. Huub Ruël, Windesheim University of Applied Sciences – Zwolle.
The use of technology and social media have impacted diplomacy, with all its pros and cons. Online channels can facilitate commercial diplomacy services as well, and can be used to serve businesses in their internationalization endeavors. This is called electronic commercial diplomacy (e-CD) or digital diplomacy. E-CD can enhance the access to and delivery of activities for international business.
We conducted a study on the commercial diplomacy service quality of embassy websites. The embassy websites of the countries that rank the highest on e-government were assumed to have the best developed electronic commercial diplomacy services (compared to others). The website of the embassy in a country’s most intensive trading partner was chosen as the unit of analysis. The ten countries included in our study were: The Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Denmark, the United States, France, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Singapore, and Canada [Korea was not included as its website in China (its most important trading partner) could only be accessed in Korean or Chinese. Therefore, Canada (no. 11 on the e-government ranking 2012) was included instead.
The overall conclusion of our study was that e-CD is still in its infancy, even among the countries that rank highest on e-government. None of the countries included in this study clearly exceeded the level of ‘presenting’, that is, the presentation of information on an embassy website, but without the option to respond (‘interaction’ level) to that information, for example by signing up to an activity.
The UK scored highest on e-CD (1.9 on a 5-point scale, 1 means low, 5 means high), Canada came in second, the Netherlands third, the United States fourth, and Sweden fifth. Finally, the commercial diplomacy services provided best via embassy websites were information on trade fairs, on how to establish a business in a host country, market information, export regulations, and import regulations. However, the level of advancedness of these services hardly scores more than 2 on a 5-point scale (1 means low, 5 means high).
The relationship ICT, internet, social media and commercial diplomacy is an open territory in terms of research and definitely needs more follow-up.