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[Read more;session reports and updates from the eWeek of Online Event: Dialogues, Webinars and Meeting]

Digital transformation and trade is a reality and digital economies are transforming nations and societies. Instruments such as the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) promote digital economies, remove trade barriers and manage risks, thereby acting as enablers to support the digital transformation of Africa and promote home grown businesses.

The importance of prioritising micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), understanding and developing concrete solutions for MSMEs and start-ups, encouraging business to business e-commerce was discussed. Ways to create enabling environments for cross-border MSME trade were listed as: international payment systems, digital environments to support small businesses, addressing access and trust issues.

Concerns related to the asymmetrical nature of e-commerce and digital trade vis-a-vis rules being proposed in multilateral forums; lack of funding, human, and technical support; trade barriers; inconsistency between policies of different nations; challenges of cross-border payment; interoperability; and lack of trust were raised.

Speaking of what should be the priorities to improve e-commerce and cross-border trade in Africa; Ms Yasmin Ismail (Research Fellow, CUTS International Geneva) suggested the need to formulate a common position towards issues in multilateral negotiations. Mr Jamie Alexander Macleod (Trade Policy Expert African Trade Policy Centre, UN Economic Commission for Africa [UNECA]) emphasised the need to improve existing processes; such as learning from the failures of the World Trade Organization (WTO) e-commerce negotiations and making substantive changes in priorities; such as improving co-operation frameworks of digital trade and e-commerce, focusing on regulatory harmonisation. Ms Vahini Naidoo (Director, Department of Trade and Industry, South Africa) stressed the need for nations to re-evaluate the previous ways of doing e-commerce. Mr Stanlake J.T.M. Samkange (Senior Director for Strategic Coordination and Support, UN World Food Programme [WFP]) highlighted the importance of investing in physical and digital infrastructure; improving facilitators such as supply chains; and relooking at both national and international trade policy frameworks. Ismail stressed the need for policymakers to formulate comprehensible, logical, and meaningful policies. Mr Elia Mtweve (Minister Counsellor, Permanent Mission of Tanzania, Geneva) suggested harmonising legal systems; understanding policy tools adopted by different countries; and the need for a holistic approach when working with the WTO. Building and investing in skills and better access to finance including public private partnerships (PPPs) were suggested.

The importance of supporting policymakers with data to formulate nuanced policies was emphasised. Mr Jullien Grollier (Senior Programme Officer, CUTS International Geneva) shared three studies conducted by CUTS International Geneva with GIZ for policymakers: the study Electronic Commerce in Trade Agreements: Experience of Small Developing Countries a study on gender; and a study on mobilising e-commerce for development through the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).

To improve the interoperability of the AfCFTA, MacLeod suggested harmonising competition and market regulations and penalties for cybercrime. To improve cross border trade, Ismail suggested harmonising customs procedures and regulations between countries.

For negotiators, Mtweve stressed the need for AfCFTA and WTO negotiators to exchange information and analysis to ensure coherence between the two. Macloid suggested negotiators to refresh their perspective on e-commerce based on present scenarios.

By Amrita Choudhury