Building capacity to help Africa trade better

Data, ICT developments and the Continental Free Trade Area


Data, ICT developments and the Continental Free Trade Area

Tarik Oguz, tralac Research Advisor – Information and Communication Technologies, comments on the inaugural UN World Data Forum held in Cape Town and the ongoing CFTA negotiations

In 2017, we (at tralac) intend to support debate on the enormous opportunities ICTs present for African economies in a year where intense negotiations are expected to conclude with the signing of the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) agreement.

This is recognised as a very ambitious target. Member states still have to agree on the level of ambition for the negotiations and other aspects of the modalities of the negotiations on trade in goods and services, and then the negotiations will begin.

This Discussion Note reflects on the agenda of the inaugural United Nations (UN) World Data Forum[1] which took place in Cape Town on 15-18 January 2017, with the participation of representatives from national and international statistics organisations, government departments, public and private sectors, civil societies, and scientific and academic communities following the key recommendations of the IEAG (UN Secretary General’s Independent Expert Advisory Group on a Data Revolution for Sustainable Development) in November 2014.[2] The Forum agenda covered a very wide range of topics that are important for substantive issues on the trade in services agenda, for example, but also with regard to the trade in goods negotiations. Access to accurate, reliable trade data, which is important for both trade in goods and services negotiations, is often incomplete and fraught with many challenges. Measuring the impact of the CFTA will require data from the member states, for example, related to trade and a range of indicators which may indicate the contribution of the CFTA to development outcomes. The role of ICT in the generation, collection, reporting and protection of data, as well as the role of ICT developments, more generally, in delivery of a broad range of services, as well as in trade facilitation, are key concerns in the CFTA.

The Data Forum was an extremely important milestone in raising awareness and commencing in putting the building blocks together towards a global inclusive knowledge society.

The following topics were extensively presented, discussed and debated at the forum:

  • Big data

  • Open Data, Statistics and Data Ecosystem

  • Data in the Cloud

  • Data Mining

  • National Data Strategies and Population and Housing Censuses

  • Data Sovereignty

  • Public Private Partnership sharing data to improve decision making for the SDGs

  • Production and Protection of Data

  • Collection, Interpreting and Reporting Meaningful Data

The UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Mr Wu Hongbo, stated that “[t]his forum takes place at a crucial time for strengthening data and statistical capacity around the world” in his speech at the opening plenary session. As part of the United Nations (UN) 2030 Agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) included important objectives for the development of ICTs; “telecommunications” and “open data” initiatives. The Forum ended with an action plan[3] on effective collection, interpretation, coordination at various levels, and reporting in order to accurately monitor the global SDG indicators to achieve the 2030 Agenda.

Many countries in Africa have already embraced an open data approach for their individual citizens and private enterprises to access information. These initiatives will improve transparency and accountability of governments and will further play an instrumental role towards an inclusive economy and society where people benefit from improved access to government services (health and education services in particular); online financial services; and improved domestic and international trading opportunities.

However, African countries are already much behind in fixed broadband infrastructure and internet use compared to the rest of the world. There is a crystal clear choice in front of the governments and policy makers in Africa. There needs to be priorities assigned to ICT capacity building initiatives and investments to be made in

  • ICT Infrastructure (mobile- and fixed-broadband communications) to facilitate the “3 As“ (Availability, Accessibility, Affordability)

  • National and international internet governance rules providing regulations to have an open and transparent source of information yet secured against cyber threats of all kinds

  • Securing the private and personal information of the citizens

  • Providing an open, competitive ICT service provider market


Intra-Africa Trade is still the smallest share (15% - 16%) compared to other continents. Intra-Europe trade is more than 70%; the figure is around 50% for Asia and North America and slightly above 20% for South America. Nearly half of intra-Africa trade is informal cross border trade and more than two thirds of cross border traders are women. A large majority of the cross border traders do not have access to “bank accounts” and use mobile money for their transactions.

For Africa to close the prosperity gap it has with other continents, the CFTA agreement must be successful. There are a number of critical factors to achieve this:

  • Transparent governance of the CFTA must be negotiated based on rule of law and a clear dispute settlement context (lessons learnt from the RECs must be reflected)

  • Trade in goods and services modalities should be adopted to achieve CFTA objectives

  • Regional Trade Agreements must converge into the CFTA within a set period of time

  • The overall gains must achieve a balanced distribution between strong economies and not-so-strong economies; social dividend targets must also be factored in (in line with Agenda 2063)

  • An ongoing monitoring and evaluation (M&E) mechanism needs to be introduced

The benefits to Africa will be substantial once the CFTA is agreed and implemented.

However, there are important challenges ahead, as explained in recent tralac publication by Hans G. Jensen and Ron Sandrey, “The Continental Free Trade Area – A GTAP assessment”.

[2] A World That Counts: Mobilising The Data Revolution for Sustainable Development. http://www.undatarevolution.org/report/

Key recommendations of UN Secretary General’s Independent Expert Advisory Group on a Data Revolution for Sustainable Development (IEAG) in Nov 2014

  1. Develop a global consensus on principles and standards
  2. Share technology and innovations for the common good
  3. New resources for capacity development
  4. Leadership for coordination and mobilisation
  5. Establish some quick wins on SDG data


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