Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) has stepped up efforts to promote cross-border trade by embracing e-commerce to be able to “minimise physical barriers”. to trade across the region. Dr Francis Mangeni, the COMESA director of trade and customs, said that trade facilitation is a key priority for Africa, and a “digital free trade area (FTA) is a practical way of increasing intra-regional trade and creating wealth”.
Mangeni added that the online FTA will be rolled out soon enabling member states to trade commodities, goods and services without need to travel.
In a statement, Mangeni added that providing traders with the necessary digital tools will help boost intra-regional trade and enhance competitiveness of COMESA members in global trade. The official was speaking after a two-day workshop on the digital free trade area held in the Seychelles last week.
Speaking in an interview with The New Times about the development, Geoffrey Kamanzi, the PSF director for trade facilitation and negotiations, said the move is a “timely measure that will help reduce the cost of doing business within the bloc”.
It is also a unique opportunity to further realise the potential of free trade through ICT, as well as contribute to greater regional integration.
Trade experts agree that in today’s rapidly-changing world and economies, the region cannot afford to be left behind.
They say that embracing technology will enable the members in the bloc to overcome some of the barriers to trade which have for a long time made the region less competitive.
“We must, therefore, commend COMESA for seizing the benefits of ICT and linking it with trade to help enhance our competitiveness as a region,” the vice-president of Seychelles, Vincent Meriton, said while speaking at the workshop.
How DFTA will work
The COMESA digital free trade area (DFTA) will be divided into three segments - e-trade, e-logistics and e-legislation. These are all designed to promote e-commerce by providing an online platform for the COMESA region traders to do business online.
The digital platform will enable duty-free and quota-free treatment, making it an online market for COMESA region. Digital logistics uses ICT as a tool to improve the commercial activity of transporting goods to customers. This DFTA will require both technological and legal innovations, especially in the fields of intellectual property, competition, data privacy and protection, cyber security and a whole range of other innovative laws, according to COMESA secretariat.
Officials said laws are critical to handle digital transactions and payments, among others.
DFTA action plan
Lanka Dorby, the COMESA director for information and technology, said the approved DFTA action plan will include a well-established COMESA online market, among others. Dorby explained that it is the responsibility of the member states to decide the best approach of implementing the COMESA online market. He added that the e-market could be managed through a public-private partnership or through a government initiative.
According to COMESA secretariat, the design, rules and guidelines for implementing the online market will be developed and shared with the members soon. “We will also provide technical assistance upon request to build country pages for the COMESA online market platform,” said Lanka.