AfCFTA and the digital reality of trade today
Digitisation has contributed to a changing trade environment in many ways – facilitating multinational value chains, enabling the rise of the micro-multinational and giving us new tradeable goods and services. It is also blurring the traditional boundaries between goods and services, blurring the boundaries between jurisdictions and bringing into question the way our legal and regulatory infrastructure operates at national, regional and global levels. In negotiating the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA), member states cannot afford to ignore the current reality of trading on the Continent. Creating an AfCFTA that does not address the digitisation of trade risks stifling the effectiveness of the agreement before it even begins, or worse, setting intra-African trade further behind.
Although the digital economy is not specifically identified as part of the mandate of the AfCFTA, a trade agreement in the 21st century cannot avoid covering aspects of the digital economy. Thus, specified or not, the digital issues will be considered as part of the existing mandate. Doing this systematically, while not attempting to secure a specific mandate, is a practical way to ensure that the most important aspects of the digital trade agenda are incorporated into the agreement. At the very least, considering the digital economy in further aspects of negotiations will help ensure that the agreement does not stand in the way of the development of the digital economy.
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