Marrakech, 23 March 2019 – Digital trade offers an innovative tool for industrial leapfrogging and income convergence, and human rights can provide firm ground for a consistent policy framework and principled action.
On the side lines of the Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development (COM) with the theme “Fiscal Policy, trade and the private sector in the digital era: A strategy for Africa”, an event was organized to focus on how Africa’s digital transformation can be used as a tool for inclusive industrialization through trade, drawing on ECA’s collaborative work with the African Export Import Bank (AFREXIMBANK) and United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) under the Bank’s 2019 African Trade Report (ATR) on “Digital Transformation for Intra-Regional Trade and Industrialization in Africa” and ECA’s collaborative publication with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) on “Digital Trade in Africa: Implications for Inclusion and Human Rights”.
In introducing the issues, Mr. David Luke, Coordinator of the African Trade Policy Centre at ECA noted that e-commerce is a reality that Africa cannot afford to ignore. The digital economy offers significant opportunity for Africa to leapfrog and create productive jobs for its young people, but also a number of challenges in the context of the digital divide. Ms. Nwanneakolam Vwede-Obaho, Ms. Nwanne Vwede Obahor, the Regional Representative of OHCHR to the African Union and the East Africa Regional Office, stressed that these challenges must be addressed in a way that is consistent with inclusion, transparency and the attainment of human rights. In addition, she identified the need for pro-active policy measures to close the gender digital divide and the rural-urban digital divide within African countries.
Ms. Latifa Bouabdellaoui, Director for International Affairs, Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment and the Digital Economy of Morocco, announced that the Government of Morocco has developed the Morocco Digital Strategy 2020 which is expected to contribute to narrowing the digital gap at three levels, namely technology and infrastructure, human resources and skills, and regulation.
Mr. Hippolyte Fofack, Chief Economist at AFREXIMBANK, noted that Africa missed out on the previous electronics and ICT revolutions, and there exists a risk that Africa will also miss out on the digital revolution if the continent delays action and is not sufficiently prepared for the new digital age. In this context, he highlighted the need for African countries to put in place the necessary infrastructure to harness the benefits of digital trade. He announced that the Bank is partnering with the African Union to establish a Pan-African Payments Settlement System this year as a platform for cross-border trade and e-commerce on the continent.
Mr. Yonov Frederick Agah, Deputy Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) spoke to the concerns of the WTO African Group regarding the launch of multilateral negotiations on the e-commerce related issues, and called for African countries to be more actively engaged in e-commerce discussions so that other WTO members can better understand and accommodate their challenges.
Summing up the discussions, Mr. David Luke, Coordinator of the African Trade Policy Centre (ATPC) of the ECA, said that the AfCFTA offers a platform for African countries to collaborate on the digital economy, which could also help to inform a common African position on e-commerce at the multilateral level. In this regard, ECA has recently established a Digital Identity, Trade and Economy Centre of Excellence which pools various types of expertise, including trade, statistics, technology, project management, policy, and investment, dedicated to working on Africa’s digital agenda.
ECA’s collaborative publication with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) on “Digital Trade in Africa: Implications for Inclusion and Human Rights” will be released in the third quarter of the year 2019.
Economic Commission for Africa
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