COMESA holds first Digital FTA workshop

Sixteen COMESA Member States have participated in a two-day workshop on the Digital Free Trade Area (DFTA) in which they agreed that the concept is about empowering traders to do cross-border trade using ICT as a tool to minimise physical barriers.
COMESA’s Director of Trade and Customs Dr Francis Mangeni said the workshop was proof that the regional block is moving a step closer to actualize the digital Free Trade Area.
“Trade Facilitation is a key priority for Africa, and a digital FTA is a practical way of increasing intra-regional trade and creating wealth,” said Dr Mangeni. He was speaking in Mahe, Seychelles. The workshop was held on 18 – 19 January 2018.
He added that providing traders with the necessary digital tools and infrastructure they need for enhancement of intra trade and global trade is important for COMESA.
Speaking when he opened the workshop, Vice President of Seychelles His Excellency Mr Vincent Meriton described the Digital FTA as a unique opportunity to further realise the potential of free trade through ICT as well as contribute to greater regional integration. He added that in today’s rapidly changing world and economies, this region cannot afford to be left behind.
“We must therefore commend COMESA for seizing the benefits of ICT, for linking it with trade and for making the countries of our region part of today’s digital economy,” he said.
The COMESA Digital Free Trade Area is defined into three segments namely E-Trade, E-Logistics and E-Legislation. E-Trade intends to promote e–commerce by providing an online platform for COMESA region traders to trade online. The DFTA platform will enable duty-free and quota-free treatment making it an online market for COMESA region. Digital logistics uses ICT as a tool to improve the commercial activity of transporting goods to customers. E-legislation looks at the readiness of legislation in countries for them to carry out e-transactions and e-payments. DFTA will require both technological and legal innovations especially in the fields of intellectual property, competition, data privacy and protection, Cyber security and a whole range of other innovative laws. The workshop was informed that with digital delivery of e-commerce, digital transactions and digital payments legal redress is a must.
Director for Information Technology at the COMESA Secretariat, Ms. Lanka Dorby made a presentation on the approved DFTA Action plan which includes establishment of the COMESA Online Market. Member States sought clarification on who will lead the initiative in the implementation of the COMESA Online Market. The Secretariat informed the workshop that it is the responsibility of the Member States to decide the best approach for implementing the COMESA Online Market for example through a Public Private Partnership or through a government initiative. 

The Secretariat further informed the workshop that the design, rules and guidelines for implementing the online market will be developed and shared with the Member States.
Furthermore, the Secretariat assured the Member States that they will provide technical assistance upon request to build country pages for the COMESA Online Market platform.
It was proposed that the DFTA starts with Member States that are ready to pilot the COMESA DFTA instruments, rollout an awareness programme, conclude a payment gateway and then operationalize through a practical approach such as entering into an arrangement with global e-markets.
Representatives from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Microsoft and the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations (FIATA) made presentations on the importance and advantages of e-commerce. Various COMESA trade facilitation tools were also presented.



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