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The AfCFTA Protocol on Digital Trade and the SADC Trade in Services Negotiations

November saw the circulation of an AfCFTA Secretariat paper to the Member States entitled “Key Elements for the Development of the AfCFTA Protocol on Digital Trade”, and, during the week of 21 Nov, a session by SADC on trade in services. EFSA attended a meeting between the South African DTIC and DCDT with BUSA which went over the AfCFTA paper to decide the SA approach. The first round of talks between member states will be during the week of 5 Dec. The deadline for completing the Protocol is July 2023. On the whole, concerns that the AfCFTA would try to avoid controversial issues proved to be unfounded. The paper picked up most of the points made in EFA’s “non-paper” on the items that should be included in the Protocol. EFA has circulated the paper with comments to our colleagues in the 5 African ecommerce trade associations in order for some consistence in approach, and has alerted the Business Councils of COMESA and SADC. The more coordinated the sector can be, the more influence it can achieve in these key negotiations.

Meanwhile, EFA attended the SADC meeting on trade in services. In response to an earlier meeting of SADC on trade in Services, EFA was invited by the ministries to present its views on how SADC could assist cross-border ecommerce and reduce existing challenges. EFA submitted a paper (available from [email protected]) and was asked to give a presentation to the SADC committee on 21 Nov (also available on request). The ministries present quizzed EFA on the issues raised and agreed to take them into consideration in preparing its work plans. An issue which particularly attracted attention was the potential to create a system of certification for B2C and B2B in the SADC region to promote trust in online sales. The SADC secretariat is committed to work with EFA to have this certification/verification system developed in 2023.

These separate events serve to prove Tralac’s point that “The AfCFTA is a member-driven free trade area (FTA), not a customs union (CU), and has no supra-national institutions. It will not replace the RECs which have already formed FTAs, CUs, or common markets. It will exist alongside them and will preserve the acquis, meaning what has already been achieved in terms of regional integration, remains binding”. In other words, it is essential for EFA to work with the regional economic communities (RECs) to ensure that the structures they put in place are beneficial to ecommerce. Those structures will then influence the AfCFTA. One issue raised at the SADC meeting by EFA (supported by the SA DTIC which suggested it to EFA) was – could the SADC as a bloc also be active in representing its 16 member states? The member states are considering this proposal.

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Alastair Tempest

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