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Cross-Border eCommerce

EFSA was delighted to support a TCI conference on cross-border ecommerce on 16-17 November. Over 60 delegates heard from the chief South African negotiator for trade in services (ecommerce is considered a trade in services) on how the AfCFTA negotiations were progressing , and from the South African Revenue Service (SARS) on its programme designed specifically to help e-merchants sell abroad. The SA negotiator stressed that the AfCFTA process was already grounded in law, with agreements by all the 45 signed-up countries to ensure the flow of both goods and services. This was the groundwork on which future specific trade agreements were being prepared. For ecommerce, a Protocol on Digital Trade was under preparation (see below and the October Newsletter), which would aim to create a level playing field for e-merchants by tackling the issues that created barriers (“non-tariff barriers”) to trade within the African continent. She mentioned the pressing need for representation from the ecommerce sector across Africa. EFA was a recognised voice but needed greater support particularly in terms of research on the size and economic importance of ecommerce in Africa. The conference also heard from SARS.

The SARS Authorised Economic Operator Programme (https://www.sars.gov.za/customs-and-excise/registration-licensing-and-accreditation/accreditation/) is a recognised process developed by customs authorities across the globe. Thus it interrelates to other customs administrations. SARS was also studying the activities of SMEs involved in ecommerce in order to be able to provide them with greater support in the future. Both the SARS team and the DTIC negotiator remained throughout the 2 days of the conference, which was greatly appreciated.

The Consumer Goods and Services Ombuds (CGSO) Dr Maguata Mphahele pointed out that consumer complaints concerning ecommerce had increased dramatically over the last two years. Some of the complaints were due to inefficient organisation by e-shops – such as disorganized delivery processes or failure to apply basic customer relations. However, there was a distinct increase in deliberate fraud. The CGSO had named and shamed some of these, however, it was in the nature of fraudsters to cut and run once identified, and then to turn up under a new name a few weeks later. She was concerned that cross-border ecommerce would increase the problems unless there was solid cooperation between Member States. Readers will recall that we reported in last month’s Newsletter that the CEO of SABRIC (the banks’ anti-fraud body) had also pointed out in the SABRIC Annual Report her concerns with the increase in ecommerce fraud.

The conference explored specific issues – DHL, for example, provided a clear view of the processes (and challenges) of cross border deliveries; the attendees heard from the Advantage Group on research into business trends; 2 panels discussed new technologies and regulation. The conference also learnt from marketing experts on best practices and payment experts on the many diverse  developments in digital payments, including the PAPSS and TCIB cross border pilot programmes.

It is hoped that the event will become an annual fixture arranged by TCI, a professional events organisor (although, preferably earlier in the year).

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Alastair Tempest

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