By Onome Amuge.
The Council of Ministers of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has endorsed a regional e-commerce strategy for the organisation’s 15 member nations.
The strategy, announced on 7 July 2023, is expected to boost e-commerce in the region through specific measures responding to the needs of the body as identified by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in its “eTrade readiness assessment” for the region.
Developed through a multistakeholder and participatory process, the strategy is supported by Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and the Kingdom of the Netherlands, who are core donors of UNCTAD’s e-commerce and digital economy programme.
Notably, the strategy aims at accelerating structural change and development, and fostering regional integration through economic diversification and job creation.
It also targets boosting economic resilience of ECOWAS member nations including Benin, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, The Gambia and Togo.
This is as 11 of the member nations are categorised by the UNCTAD among least developed countries that are generally more vulnerable to external shocks. To this end, the new strategy seeks to mitigate such vulnerability and make the region’s economies more resilient to future crises.
In addition, the strategy is designed to enable the ECOWAS Commission to better support trade ministries in the region and help member nations diversify their economies and leverage new economic and trade opportunities through e-commerce.
In order to ensure a secure environment to reassure e-commerce users and further its adoption, the strategy aims to build trust along the e-commerce supply chain through a harmonised and updated legal and regulatory framework, reliable digital payment methods, secure marketplaces or websites, and connecting e-commerce buyers and sellers with high-quality products through secured logistics and delivery services.
It also aims to provide reliable data on e-commerce by establishing a regional e-commerce observatory and improving the capacity of ECOWAS member states to collect and analyse data.
This, the ECOWAS Council said, should eventually lead to better-informed, evidence-based policymaking in the region and targeted support from development partners.
The new strategy further shines a spotlight on digitally vulnerable groups including women, the youth, people with disabilities and informal cross-border traders in e-commerce, noting that It will not only make e-commerce more accessible to these groups, but also actively involve them as entrepreneurs and leaders to help create more jobs.
Commenting on the development, Shamika N. Sirimanne,director of technology and logistics at UNCTAD, described the newly endorsed strategy as the beginning of a transformative journey, aimed at bridging the regional digital divide and boosting e-commerce development.
Sirimanne said the strategy is a milestone that UNCTAD is proud to have supported, in the framework of its longstanding partnership with ECOWAs.
“We have seen, through UNCTAD’s work with women entrepreneurs, that the approach of empowering vulnerable groups can be particularly successful and inspiring, with the potential to lead to a truly inclusive e-commerce environment,”she noted further.
On her part, Massandjé Toure-Litse, commissioner for economic affairs and agriculture at the ECOWAS Commission, said the regional body is committed to increasing the adoption and use of e-commerce to promote the implementation of the ECOWAS Vision 2050 for an inclusive and sustainable development for the region.
Toure-Litse added that the e-commerce strategy will support the digital-driven structural transformation of the economies of member states, and deepen regional trade integration.
The ECOWAS e-commerce strategy is supported by rigorous governance and implementation frameworks. While the ECOWAS Commission will facilitate strategy implementation, its member states will lead implementation at national levels. Civil society and private sector actors will also participate through an e-commerce community forum and expert groups.
Kolawole Sofola, acting director of trade at the ECOWAS Commission, expressed confidence that robust coordination at both the national and regional levels will support the implementation by member states.
Business A.M gathered that ECOWAS is the fourth African regional economic community to develop a collective e-commerce strategy. It follows the development of an e-commerce strategy by the African Union (AU) and comes ahead of the African Continental Free Trade Area’s digital trade protocol currently under negotiation.