AfCFTA Digital Trade Protocol: A review of the key to overcoming barriers to intra-Africa digital trade.

  • 14 Mar 2024
  • 3 Mins Read
  • 〜 by Shammah Sirima

Digital trade, defined as digitally enabled transactions for the trade of goods and services, is reshaping the global economy and the regional economy is not exempted. Its impact on growth, development, and job creation is powerful, especially among the youth. It has the potential to boost intra-Africa trade in goods and services, enhance economic integration, stimulate job creation, and foster inclusive growth. Despite its potential, intra-Africa digital trade remains low due to various challenges such as regulatory division, inadequate digital infrastructure, and a lack of certainty in the digital economy that is feared to have an effect on fair competition practices.

Recognising these barriers, the African Union (AU) has initiated negotiations for the Protocol on Digital Trade within the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) framework to tackle these issues and unlock opportunities for digital trade within the continent. By eliminating barriers, establishing harmonised rules, and creating a secure digital trade environment, the Protocol aims to facilitate cross-border transactions and investment, ultimately contributing to market stability and confidence.

The Protocol seeks to promote interoperability of digital trade frameworks, eliminate customs duties on electronic transmissions, and ensure fair competition among African businesses. It aims to combat potential obstacles to market access, such as forced data localisation and data processing, while also facilitating cross-border data transfers crucial for various sectors, including the telecommunications and manufacturing industries.

To overcome the lack of certainty in the digital trade economy, the Protocol emphasises consumer and business protection against cyber threats and fraudulent activities. It proposes measures to safeguard user rights and enhance consumer confidence in online transactions. Some of these measures include the requirement to adopt a digital infrastructure that will help govern the guidelines within the digital Protocol. Additionally, the Protocol aims to streamline trade procedures, reduce bureaucracy, and ensure the legal validity of electronic contracts to benefit micro, small, and medium enterprises.

The Protocol prioritises the inclusion of marginalised groups such as women, youth, and rural communities in the digital economy by advocating for affordable digital infrastructure development and accessible payment systems. It aims to ensure that digital trade benefits everyone, foster mutual recognition of electronic documents, and enhance the reliability of digital infrastructure.

The Protocol warrants concerns over data protection as it warrants the transfer of personal data across borders. With states rapidly adapting to data protection laws, the Protocol addresses this challenge by including, under Article 21, the need for the protection of personal data. However, it addresses it by demanding that each state develop and present its data protection policies and govern the personal data within its local law. This creates friction, as each state may vary in its data protection laws and may then act within its guidelines and outside those of a member state. A governing guideline may present little encouragement when considering trust in digital trade.

Many states within the African continent, however, are underdeveloped, thus digital infrastructure is difficult to develop and implement. Within the guidelines of the protocol, these must be adopted and in-cooperated for each member state looking to act within these guidelines of digital trade within the continent. Does this pose a challenge to the growth digital trade to be amalgamated, or does this pose an opportunity for African states to prioritise digital development?

The Protocol on Digital Trade within AfCFTA presents a significant opportunity for Africa to harness the benefits of digital development, foster economic growth within member states and encourage intra-trade within the African continent. By addressing regulatory barriers, enhancing trust, and promoting inclusivity, the Protocol aims to unlock the full potential of intra-Africa digital trade, paving the way for a more prosperous and interconnected continent.