Trade Briefs

What is COMESA’s Digital Free Trade Area and should SADC have one too?

What is COMESA’s Digital Free Trade Area and should SADC have one too?

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15 Feb 2018

Author(s): Ashly Hope

The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) announced in November 2017 that its Secretariat had ‘completed the design of the digital free trade area’, and that the COMESA electronic certificate of origin was now ready for piloting. Subsequent news reports have suggested that the digital free trade area (DFTA) would be rolled out in 2018, with a COMESA spokesperson reported as saying in late December: ‘We are rolling out the Digital FTA in 2018, beginning with willing member states on the basis of the principle of variable geometry.’

So, what is a digital free trade area? This trade brief attempts to answer this question, and explores whether this is merely a nice piece of public relations, or whether it will have a real impact in COMESA and if so, should the Southern African Development Community (SADC) become a digital free trade area too?

News reports suggest that the COMESA DFTA will consist of a number of digital instruments to support trade in COMESA, including an electronic certificate of origin, underpinned by blockchain technology, and a mobile application for cross-border traders. In this way, the digital free trade area can be considered more of a trade facilitation device rather than Bergemann’s concept of a digital free trade zone.

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