Globally, electronic commerce is growing at a fast rate and it is already an important aspect of economic activities.
In the East Africa Community, the impact of e-commerce is especially manifested in the financial and telecommunications sectors, whereby mobile money transactions are now an integral part of economic activities in the region. Beyond that, many sectors in the import and export business be it in goods or services sectors are increasingly utilizing e-commerce. As WTO members agreed last December to reinvigorate the work programme on e-commerce, East African delegates met at this meeting to consider perspectives from their stakeholders on the ground.
What was the meeting about?
Globally, electronic commerce (e-commerce) is growing at a very fast rate and is already a vital component in economic activities. In the East African Community (EAC), the impact of e-commerce has been established particularly in the financial and telecommunications sectors and as such mobile money transactions now make up an integral part of economic activities in the region. Besides that, many businesses in the import and export sectors, be it in goods or services are increasingly utilizing e-commerce. It is in this respect that the EAC Geneva forum convened to discuss and consider views from stakeholders in the region, on electronic commerce especially in light of the WTO Ministerial Decision to reinvigorate the work programme on e-commerce in the WTO.
The meeting was informed by country update notes, which captured the views of each EAC Member countries stakeholders. These included perspectives from business chambers of commerce; sector associations; government Ministries and Departments; civil society organizations; as well as academia and media stakeholders involved in international trade and related issues. The notes were complimented by an issue note on “Understanding E-Commerce Issues in Trade Agreements: A Development Perspective”.
In the ensuing discussions, it was observed as follows: (i) There is need to proceed with caution in the discussions on e-commerce so as to ensure that subsequent liberalisation does not affect EAC’s competitiveness in the sector; (ii) Developing and least developed countries need to engage actively in the e-commerce discussions and debates to ensure that their interests are taken into account in the event of an outcome. This should be done through preparation and submission of proposals in the working group in e-commerce; (iii) Ensure that EAC position in the deliberations on e-commerce is informed by the private sector and other relevant stakeholders involved in e-commerce, this is to ensure that outcomes are not counterproductive to them; (iv) E-commerce is evolving at a very fast rate, this needs to be taken into account in arriving at any multilateral rules to govern the sector; (v) E-commerce is cross-cutting across all issues such as services, goods, agriculture etc. wouldn’t it be better to consider discussing these aspects in the respective issue areas rather than a standalone issue?; (vi) No doubt a lot needs to be done before reinvigorating the discussions on e-commerce, including the need to define the terms of engagement and towards what outcome.
Delegates welcomed the meeting materials, as well as the informative discussion and resolved to continue monitoring and appraising themselves on e-commerce so as to ensure active participation in the e-commerce work programme at WTO. They expressed appreciation to CUTS International and reaffirmed the need for continued support in this regard.