Building capacity to help Africa trade better

Digital Trade in Africa: a tralac guide

Digital Trade in Africa: a tralac guide

Digital Trade in Africa: a tralac guide

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The digitalisation of the economy requires new ways of thinking about competition, intellectual property, taxation, industrial policy, privacy, cyber security, the labour market, immigration, skills, investment and, of course, trade.

The wheels of international trade are powered by the internet. From the smallest informal trade to a major supply agreement, contracts are transacted online; whether via email, e-commerce store, or digital platform. Any formal trade relies on the internet for implementation – financing, documentation and logistics are all digitally driven, and becoming more and more so. Whether it is an emailed order, an online purchase, or merely the financial arrangements behind the transaction, the internet will inevitably be used in conducting international trade.

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. Digital permeates every aspect of trade – from agriculture to clothing, from manufactured goods to business services.

For African economies, there is a genuine risk of being left behind and exacerbating the digital divide. There is a double digital divide among and within African countries.

Digital development requires an intersecting set of policy interventions, international cooperation and support from Governments across the continent, in order to create an environment in which the digital economy can thrive. The foundation of this is connectivity – devices, electricity and internet access.

Without these fundamentals, engagement with the digital economy will still occur, but it will be piecemeal and uneven. Those that are already advantaged will be able to capture the benefits: incumbent businesses and privileged individuals will have access to the digital economy, but start-up and micro businesses and those disadvantaged by poverty, geographical location, gender, race or other factors will be shut out.


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