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The African Union Prepares a Strategy for Ecommerce in Africa

The AU Commission invited EFA to a meeting in Kigali in mid-June to discuss a draft Ecommerce Strategy prepared by Dr Karishma Banga, a UK-based consultant. The other attendees represented the regional economic communities (RECs), the Afreximbank and a number of stakeholders. Dr Banga’s proposal was well researched and on point, given that the 55 AU member states’ experiences of ecommerce vary so greatly. There were a number of issues which the author suggested needed to be considered more fully, including taxation (in the case of cross-border ecommerce sales where should tax be applied?), the place of national postal services within ecommerce, sustainability, digital entrepreneurship and the promotion of ecommerce as a force for the empowerment of women and the young, promotion of  investment, the lack of statistics, and the engagement of stakeholders in policy making.

Dr Banga at the meeting pushed her own agenda for the removal of the WTO moratorium on customs duties on electronic transmissions (she said that South Centre, a pressure group for non-aligned countries based in India, was about to publish a study proving that developing countries were losing billions of dollars in lost revenue) and for the localisation of data (data produced in a country must remain in that country). She also stated that digital trade rules undermined national countries right to set taxes (see below the report on the AfCFTA Digital Trade Protocol).

COMESA, ECA, SADC and ECOWAS gave presentations on their own ecommerce strategies within their regions. The UNCTAD representative discussed its role as the initial instigator of ecommerce strategies (a number of African countries have used UNCTAD’s template including recently the host, Rwanda and ECOWAS), and announced that it was working on a study on indirect taxation and ecommerce. It had promised to prepare a template for its member states to measure the digital economy, and at the meeting reported that a handbook would be published soon. The meeting was also briefed on the negotiations at the AfCFTA (see below).

EFA made the following proposals: (1) any definition of ecommerce must include social commerce; (2) many e-merchants concentrated on niche markets. Ecommerce was not just e-platforms selling a wide variety of products. This included services; (3)  improving physical address systems was very important; (4) ecommerce needed to build trust, and offering returns was an important aspect of that; (5) Africa should share skills. The AUC should consider an observatory of all universities offering courses on the digital economy (this proposal was well received); (6) there was a serious concern that some developing countries would drop their import de minimis rule, thus putting the wellbeing of many Africa SMEs which sell online at risk. African governments needed to be active in protecting this advantage.



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Alastair Tempest

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