Geneva, Switzerland, 4 July 2019: At the 2019 Aid for Trade Global Review, ECA jointly launched a publication with the UN Office of the High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) Geneva office titled “Digital Trade in Africa: Implications for Inclusion and Human Rights”.
The publication’s focus was motivated by the fact that although the digital economy and the dynamism generated by digital trade solutions create significant opportunity, it also presents challenges that will need to be addressed in a way that is consistent with inclusion, transparency, people-centered governance and the attainment of human rights.
Mr. Hajo Lanz, Director, FES Geneva office, noted that the joint publication was a compilation of commentaries and think pieces underpinned by the stories and experiences initially shared by experts during a Digital Trade and Human Rights Conference jointly held by ECA, OHCHR and FES in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in June last year.
Mr. David Luke, Coordinator of ECA’s African Trade Policy Centre, highlighted that “African policymakers will need to update their toolkit to respond to the challenges and opportunities of the new digital era in a way that is consistent with human rights”. The recommendations point to the need for effective regulation and data governance frameworks, digital infrastructure for improved connectivity, targeted digital skills development programmes and appropriate labour protections. Mr. Luke emphasized that the AfCFTA offers the perfect platform for establishing a digital single market, akin to the European Union, which would help to ensure continental cooperation on these issues.
In his remarks, Mr. Torbjorn Fredriksson, Chief at ICT Policy Section, UNCTAD, welcomed the timely contributions of the publication. He stressed the need for strengthened legal and regulatory frameworks to protect data, due to its increasingly important commercial value, noting that only less than half of African countries currently have in place data protection and privacy legislations. Mr. Fredriksson also highlighted that digitalization is not a standalone sector and instead affects all sectors in an economy. This important characteristic must be recognized and reflected in government programmes and donor strategies.
Ms. Nwanneakolam Vwede‐Obahor, Regional Representative East Africa, OHCHR, elaborated on the importance of applying a human rights lens to ensure inclusive gains from digital trade, and praised ECA for their progressivity in partnering with OHCHR and FES on this issue. She emphasized that a human rights approach assists policymakers to identify vulnerable stakeholders who may struggle to harness the benefits of digital trade, and means of participation to ensure that their specific needs and interests are understood and addressed.
The recommendations of the publication are opportune. In February 2019, the AUC, ECA and other stakeholders were mandated to prepare a “digital transformation strategy” for the continent, to include effective means of securing a digital identity for all Africans. This initiative is complemented by the Digital Trade and Digital Economy Strategy that is being prepared by the Department of Trade and Industry of the AUC. The insights from the publication will help to shape these strategies and other policy processes emerging at the African Union. The publication can also offer an important reference point for African negotiators at the WTO, who are currently working on defining priorities in the context of the digital economy, in a way that is consistent with preserving policy space to grow national industries.
The triangular partnership has brought together comparative strengths on trade policy, gender, human rights, employment and social protection. All three partners indicated a keen interest and commitment to extend and strengthen the valuable partnership moving forward.
The Executive Summary of the publication in English and French can be downloaded at https://www.uneca.org/publications/digital-trade-africa and the full report will be posted on ECA’s website in the coming weeks.