COVID-19 IMPACT: ECA launch seeks harmonized policy under AfCFTA

By Raphael Oni

The Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) today launched a report on the impact of COVID-19 on e-commerce on the continent where it calls on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) to create a harmonized protocol to accelerate the growth of the digital economy on the continent.

 “This important protocol, if harnessed correctly, has the potential to coordinate and facilitate cross-border e-commerce, regulatory cooperation, digitalization as well as the promotion of electronic goods and services originating from within Africa,” says the report, adding that under the existing arrangement across Africa, regulators employ different rules, which, coupled with the small sizes of their markets, prevent African tech companies from thriving.

In a press statement from the Communications Section Economic Commission for Africa made available to media men, it says that:

The AfCFTA has the potential to create an e-commerce protocol applicable across the continent that can continue to consolidate the “African market in the digital sphere, and preclude other arrangements which could potentially undermine the liberalization and integration agenda,” says the report, co-authored by Jamie MacLeod of the ECA and Guy Futi of the University of Oxford.

The trading bloc, the world’s largest since the creation of the World Trade Organization with the potential to unite more than 1.2 billion people with a gross domestic product of more than $2.5 trillion, is expected to usher in a new era of development for Africa. Trading under the pact commenced on 1 January this year after a postponement for six months as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the virtual launch on the sidelines of the annual Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, Futi identified poor internet penetration and high cost of data as among bottlenecks hindering e-commerce and digital economy in Africa.

Torbjorn Fredriksson of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Ify Ogo of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), Ayman Elsherbiny of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), and Nanno Mulder of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) also spoke of the impact the pandemic on poor countries in Africa and other regions.

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