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The Digital Trade Protocol at the AfCFTA

The African Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Secretariat organised 3 regional stakeholder meetings on 10-12 August to discuss its plans for a Protocol on Digital Trade (previously called the Protocol on Ecommerce). This protocol was planned for Phase 3 of the AfCFTA negotiations, which will start around 2023-24, but the Ministers earlier this year decided to bring the negotiations forward. In fact, they set an impossible task – to complete the drafting of the Protocol by the end of this September! We hope the member states will relent and set a more reasonable deadline. The issues which will be covered (according to the AfCFTA Secretariat) will include the following:

1) Definition of Digital Trade (this will cover more than ecommerce, but exactly what is still unknown)

2)  The adjustment of national policies/frameworks to the Protocol

3) Rules inhibiting digital trade (sometimes known as “open access”)

4) Data localisation

5) Availability/use of source codes

6) Market Intelligence

7) Enabling/governing X-border trade

8) cyber security

9) Trust & confidence and verification of businesses for trust (this is a point we pushed for)

10) Consumer protection – emphasis on privacy

11) Marketing rules (misleading conduct – i.e. consumer protection)

12) Digital identities

13) Empowering youth/women through digital trade

14) Payments

15) Data flows and infrastructure to enable blockchain

16) Capacity building and skills for government officials to ensure digital trading

17) Interoperability and open APIs

18) Flexibility of the rules (used to be known as “media neutrality – creating rules that don’t prevent innovation)

19) Addressing

20) Return of Goods

21) Prohibited goods

This is an impressive list, but some governments feel that a lot more needs to be added to make the Protocol really mean something – and EFA agrees. Therefore, we are talking to the national ecommerce associations and regional business councils to have a more substantial list of issues agreed upon, given that some issues (privacy, consumer protection, IP, customs procedures) will also be the subject of separate initiatives during the AfCFTA negotiations.


1 Comment

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