How the digitalization of African trade will help realise the AfCFTA

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 8 December 2020 - Participants at the 2020 edition of the African Economic Conference have been told that digitalization of trade across the continent can significantly boost free trade in Africa, helping to realize the objectives of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). The virtual 3-day event kicked off today in Addis Ababa.  

“In order to properly implement the AfCFTA, we are going to need digitalization in two aspects - digital and virtual services themselves and everything that delivers across finance, remote health, agriculture and education. The second is the enabling exercise that digitalization gives particularly for trade and in the different sectors. Making sure that these gains are actually realised takes a multisector, multifactor effort,” said Tunde Fafunwa, ECA Lead Advisor, at a session called, “Realizing the AfCFTA Promised Gains: Fostering Implementation through Digitalization and Comparative Experiences from the Global South”.

The AfCFTA seeks to create an integrated African market of 1,27 billion consumers, which is expected to reach 1,7 billion by 2030, with an aggregated gross domestic product of up to US$3,4 trillion.

Ongoing research led by experts at ECA and the United Nations System Staff College (UNSSC) aims to document the opportunities, challenges and the role of digitalization in the implementation of the AfCTA. It looks at case studies in some regional economic communities such as EAC, SADC and COMESA, where digitalization is already happening, and draws some comparative lessons for the implementation of AfCFTA.

“We do not want the report to be an academic study, we want the report to contain policy recommendations that will be practical, and resource oriented for our policymakers especially capacity building. In order to implement AfCFTA, we will need to keep on building capacities on the continent and in this report, we want to put emphasis on how we can leverage digitalization to build capacities to implement AfCFTA,” said Bineswaree Bolaky, presenting the overall objectives of the study.

However, various issues such as harmonising standards and improving the existing legal frameworks; enacting cybersecurity, consumer and data protection laws; and reducing the high cost of access all need to be addressed in order for Africa to take advantage of digitalization. 

More also needs to be done to facilitate electronic transactions to drive e-commerce and step up investments in ICT infrastructure for the digital economy to develop.

Panellists highlighted the need for policies to create an enabling environment for productive digital trade. “Digital solutions can be the norm right from the start,” said Trudi Hartzenberg, Executive Director at TRALAC, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic has boosted digitalization and Africa now has a chance to leapfrog as the AfCFTA is a new agreement. 

Temilade Abimbola, Lead Corporate Officer in the Office of the AfDB President, said there is a need to pay attention to creating an enabling environment to facilitate digitalization, which, she argues, offers the best opportunity for Africa to harmonise standards to facilitate trade.

The 2020 edition of the African Economic Conference is being held virtually from 8 to 10 December, 2020. Jointly organized by the African Development Bank (AfDB), the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the conference provides a platform for academics and young researchers to present solution-oriented research to policymakers.


Issued by:

Communications Section
Economic Commission for Africa
PO Box 3001
Addis Ababa
Tel: +251 11 551 5826