This session organised during the first Geneva Trade Week aimed to share key research findings and exchange views on what should be the key considerations for African negotiators and other stakeholders for the upcoming e-commerce Protocol under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
“The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) offers a unique opportunity for building a stronger and more inclusive participation in e-commerce in Africa”, said Tammo Strümpler on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (BMZ) Trade Division, at the opening of a virtual discussion jointly organised with CUTS International Geneva on the opening day of the Geneva Trade Week.
Held under the title “Trade and Digital Africa: Innovating for Inclusive and Sustainable Continental Integration”, the discussion aimed to share key research findings and exchange views on what should be the key considerations for African negotiators and other stakeholders for the upcoming e-commerce Protocol under AfCFTA. Other speakers included Yasmin Ismail, Research Fellow, CUTS International Geneva; Jamie Alexander Macleod, Trade Policy Expert, African Trade Policy Centre; and Jane Nalunga, Executive Director, SEATINI Uganda. The session was moderated by Robbert Wiering of Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and Rashid S Kaukab of CUTS.
The digital economy and e-commerce are fast transforming societies globally, including in Africa where digital innovation is providing unprecedented opportunities for uplifting traditionally disadvantaged groups like women and youth. With African countries scheduled to start the process for an e-commerce Protocol to AfCFTA by the end of this year, African stakeholders urgently need to explore innovative solutions to African digital integration, drawing from their experiences in national policy as well as international and regional trade negotiations.
In this context, experts on the panel explored inter alia what are the specific challenges and possible solutions for African integration in the digital age also taking into account the Covid 19 impacts; the role of AfCFTA negotiations in this regard; possible links to be established between the WTO and AfCFTA e-commerce tracks; and the role of development partners and NGOs in the process.
Among the main takeaways from the general discussion were: the need for addressing legal framework and infrastructure issues in parallel; while seeking harmonisation of rules and standards among countries is necessary, one-size-fits-all approaches should be avoided in order to ensure that the specific needs and circumstances of each country are considered; and, the process should also involve all relevant stakeholders ranging from the private sector to civil society to women representatives so as to leave no one behind, and factor in the realities and needs of people on the ground.
The discussion was informed by the findings of three recent studies by CUTS International Geneva which explored these issues. First, a study analysed the effects of specific e-commerce provisions in trade agreements, and relevant lessons for small developing countries including in Africa (https://bit.ly/2YlUldA). The second study identified options for mainstreaming gender measures in the digital trade agenda for inclusive development (https://bit.ly/3ef9m5N). Finally, the third study explored approaches for African countries to tap into opportunities for e-commerce within the AfCFTA framework and present user-friendly information for policymakers among the complex and new world related to the digital economy (https://bit.ly/2zvHpHI).
These were part of a recently completed research project by CUTS on “E-Commerce and African Regional Integration”, undertaken with financial support of GIZ. With a focus on analyzing measures to ensure the African e-commerce policy agenda is inclusive, the project complemented research work with dialogues involving African stakeholders like policy makers and negotiators. Continued similar support will remain needed as they set gears towards actual negotiations on digital matters.
“I am happy to inform you that BMZ is just planning further contributions to the AfCFTA through its Marshall Plan for Africa.”, said Tammo Strümpler about Germany’s interest in continuing to support such similar work.