COM2021: Digital Trade as a way out of the Covid-19 Crisis

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Issues about how African countries can make their way out of the crisis aggravated by Covid-19 continue to be thrashed out at the ongoing 39th ECA Committee of Experts of the Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development organised by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The good news is that, according to the ECA’s Head of the Sub-Regional Initiatives Cluster in the ECA’s East Africa Sub-Regional Office (SRO-EA), Daya Bragante, the ECA is making significant progress in supporting African countries to leverage the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA) to drive digital trade on the continent.

Daya Bragante’s presentation at the above ECA conference focused on the implementation of resolutions of the 52nd session of the Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, and the 2020 extraordinary meeting of the Bureau of the Economic Commission for Africa.

Ms. Bragante noted that the increasing impact of digitisation revealed that there was an urgent need to continue developing capacity of member States so their economies can harness digital trade to encourage sector-wide economic development.

She added that with the AfCFTA now operational, there is scope to pursue regional strategies to develop Africa's digital economy.

“ECA has been supporting the African Union Commission in the development of a digital strategy for Africa. The continental digital transformation strategy is designed to harness the benefits of digitalisation and support the implementation of digital trade, digital identity and digital economy programmes in support of the AfCFTA,” Ms. Bragante said.

She said the ECA was working on establishing the Digital Earth Africa programme, intended to deliver an exceptional fit-for-purpose platform that can translate over 50 years of Earth observation satellite imagery into information and insights on changes on land and sea in Africa.

Digital Earth Africa will build on the Data Cube technology to deliver a unique continental-scale structure and tools that democratize the capacity to process and analyse satellite data into ready-to-use insights about the continent’s environmental conditions, including soil and coastal erosion, agriculture, forest and desert monitoring, water management, and changes to human settlements, disaster risk management and other processes.

Ms. Bragante said the Centre of Excellence for Digital Identity, Trade and Economy, established in 2018, was providing the necessary support to Member States to use digitalization as a catalyst for inclusive and sustainable growth in Africa.

“In particular, the Centre will promote the harmonization of standards across member States, support the development of regulation to safeguard security and promotion of investments in infrastructure, and develop capacity and skills of key stakeholders, including the private sector, so they can embrace opportunities for innovation and job creation that digitalization presents,” she said.

In addition, the Centre will seek to backstop support provided by ECA for the creation of a digital common market under the AfCFTA so countries can take advantage of opportunities and benefits associated with the digital economy in a continent-wide market.

As one of its key deliverables, the Centre focuses on the development of strategic and legal frameworks for a harmonized legal identity that is based on a strong civil registration system and enabled by digitalization.

The Conference with the theme, Africa’s sustainable industrialisation and diversification in the digital era in the context of COVID-19, is being attended by technical experts from across Africa.

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