AI: how can we use it to enhance our lives and improve growth? © Freepik

Establishing an AI governance roadmap in the Global South
Regional blocs in the Global South can re-write the innovation narrative, seizing the potential of AI for sustainable economic growth beyond trade
1 Mar 2024

Regional blocs in the Global South are realizing the importance of working together beyond just trade. They understand the potential benefits of using AI and other emerging technologies for positive economic outcomes. However, the challenge lies in the diverse and fragmented regulations at the domestic level, which are crucial for progress.

It makes sense to believe that regional blocs can play a significant role in AI governance in the Global South, offering a fresh perspective that hasn’t been explored much. Many existing economic cooperation frameworks lack initiatives that address the intersection of sustainability, digital transformation, and economic development.

The World Economic Forum predicts that AI will contribute $15 trillion to the global economy by 2030. Considering the constraints faced by many Global South nations, including limited investment in research and development, a shortage of skilled workers, and insufficient funding, there’s an urgent need to create mechanisms for these nations to benefit from AI advancements.

AI has the potential to drive development for nations with strong foundations in both development and deployment across industries. However, it also brings concerns about negative societal changes, like increased social inequalities, ethical issues, cybersecurity concerns, and job displacement.

Over the years, regional blocs have streamlined trade processes and implemented regulatory assistance and harmonization mechanisms. They’ve expanded their focus to include topics like sustainability and digital trade, aligning with international frameworks like the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

For example, ASEAN is leading the way with its Digital Economy Framework Agreement, aiming to strengthen digital integration and transformation. This sets a precedent for other blocs in the Global South. Regional blocs can tackle regulatory challenges to promote AI governance and support member states in implementing AI strategies.

In Africa, the African Continental Free Trade Area is fostering cooperation among over 50 nations. While the agreement doesn’t currently include provisions for AI governance, the Protocol on Digital Trade, under discussion, presents a significant opportunity for digitalization and AI governance in the African region in the near future.

Using the intelligence of emerging technology to increase economic progress © Freepik

In the Global North, the European AI Alliance is taking the lead in open policy dialogue on AI in preparation for the AI Act. As other regional blocs lack a mature institutional framework like the EU, they may need more time to draft their own regulations. In the meantime, they should focus on laying the foundations for AI advancements and cooperation through protocols and diverse dialogue mechanisms.

Exploring AI governance within regional blocs involves considering their role as key players in coordinating between member states and international organizations. While governments are slowly making progress in AI regulations, regional blocs can help harmonize these efforts and work with leading international organizations such as the OECD and the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Advisory Body on AI to represent Global South nations on the global stage.

As there isn’t a comprehensive international document governing all aspects of AI, regional blocs should actively engage in discussions on AI governance, both regionally and globally. They should set an AI agenda that includes:

Institutionalization of Technology-Related Activities: Create a specific unit to coordinate activities with international organizations and national governments.

Policy Coordination: Promote collaboration, harmonization of legal frameworks, knowledge-sharing, and enhance discussions on AI governance.

Establishment of Financing Schemes: Incentivize research and development and establish financing schemes through public-private partnerships.

Since the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community in the 1950s, regional blocs have expanded their objectives beyond traditional trade-centric agendas. However, only a few have formally addressed digitalization and AI governance in their agreements. As global efforts to establish AI governance frameworks intensify, Global South regional blocs should actively participate to ensure representation and support their member states in creating a comprehensive AI agenda. 

* Renata Thiebaut is a Professor at Gisma University of Applied Sciences and COO of Green Proposition Consulting.
Read more articles about GLOBAL AFFAIRS