The Secretary General of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), Wamkele Mene, revealed that Africa is on track to complete the Protocols on digital trade as well as the Protocol on women and youth in trade. Mene was speaking at the African Union Summit held under the theme “Accelerated Implementation of the AfCFTA” on February 18. ALSO READ: Why the AfCFTA Protocol on women and youth in trade is indispensable Once the Protocols on digital trade are accepted, they will create a framework to facilitate intra-Africa digital trade by removing duties on cross-border digital trade, adoption of common electronic authentication and e-trust mechanisms and technologies, protection of source code, among other direct or indirect trade barriers. On the other hand, it is important to have specific protocols for women and youth in trade as the SMEs run by women account for close to 60 per cent of Africa’s GDP, creating about 450 million jobs and the continent’s youths are at the cutting edge of technological advancements, particularly developing the latest software to drive e-commerce. ALSO READ: Youth urged to exploit intra-Africa trade opportunities “The Protocol on digital Trade, among other important objectives, is set to broaden access to trade – particularly for SMEs that are led by women and young entrepreneurs – thereby addressing the critical imperative of digital financial inclusion and the need for more investment in digital financial inclusion,” said Mene. This comes at a time when the AfCFTA secretariat has concluded the Protocols on Investment, Competition and Intellectual Property Rights. He emphasized that the acceleration of the implementation of the AfCFTA shall not only be in the context of concluding the establishment of the legal construct, it shall also be in accelerating commercially meaningful new market access across the intra-African market. “In this regard, the Council of Ministers of Trade congratulated and welcomed the Market Access Offer or Tariff Offer that the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) recently submitted, an important step in our desire to boost intra-Africa trade and create commercially meaningful opportunities for our private sector, particularly SMEs that are led by women and young Africans.” Mene also reported that for the first time in the economic history of Africa, Protocol on rules of origin has reached 88.3 percent convergence. “In the almost 5000 products that are traded in Africa, we now have a single set of rules for trade in 88.3 percent of those products. This has the potential to position our continent as an appealing investment destination and for accelerated industrial development,” he said. However, there is more to do in the area of rules of origin for the automotive sector, textiles and clothing, something which actively being negotiated, he added. In January 2022, the Pan-African Payments and Settlement System (PAPSS) was launched to allow a buyer in one African country to make a payment in his or her national currency and the seller in another country receives payment in their local currency. “The immediate beneficiaries of the system are SME led by women and young entrepreneurs who seek to take advantage of a market whose combined GDP is projected to be close to $7 trillion by the year 2035,” Mene noted. ALSO READ: How new Pan-African payment system will boost AfCFTA implementation The development was taken up by a Rwandan firm, RSwitch Ltd –an e-payment operator mandated to expand the financial services ecosystem by delivering interoperable solutions –with plans to take the PAPSS to countries in East, Central and Southern Africa.