Ecowas to boost e-commerce in West Africa

The Council of Ministers of the Economic Community of West African States has endorsed a strategy to boost e-commerce in the region through specific measures responding to local needs.

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The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) has adopted a strategy to boost e-commerce in the region.

The Ecowas Council of Ministers endorsed the strategy for the organisation’s 15 member nations on 7 July. It is intended to boost e-commerce in West Africa through specific measures responding to local needs, as identified by a recent eTrade readiness assessment produced by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad).

The move comes against the background of rapid growth in the African e-commerce market, with the number of users forecast to rise by over 40% and average revenue per user by 17% between 2023 and 2027.

Strengthening foundations of e-commerce

Eleven of the 15 members of Ecowas are least developed countries and according to the Unctad assessment, the region suffers from a double digital divide.

On the one hand some Ecowas countries are already in the early phases of 5G implementation while others are still struggling to ensure access to broadband.

At the same time there is a divide within countries as they struggle to overcome inequality in access to digital services, or even access to electricity for rural populations.

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 should eventually lead to better-informed, evidence-based policymaking in the region and targeted support from development partners.

The strategy takes special account of digitally vulnerable groups including women, youth, people with disabilities and informal cross-border traders in e-commerce. It aims not only to make e-commerce more accessible to these groups, but also actively involve them as entrepreneurs and leaders to help create more jobs.

Accelerating structural change

Developed through a multistakeholder and participatory process, the strategy aims at accelerating structural change and development and fostering regional integration through economic diversification and job creation.

“Ecowas 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,” said Massandjé Toure-Litse, commissioner for economic affairs and agriculture at the ECOWAS Commission. “The e-commerce strategy will support the digital-driven structural transformation of the economies of member states, and deepen regional trade integration.”

The strategy will 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. However, member states will lead implementation at national levels, while civil society and private sector actors will also participate through an e-commerce community forum and expert groups.

According to UNCTAD, the project is linked to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on promoting decent job creation and the formalisation and growth of MSMEs (8.3), increasing access of smallscale enterprises to financial services, including affordable credit (9.3), increasing access to ICT (9.8), and increasing exports of developing countries (17.11).

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 and comes ahead of the African Continental Free Trade Area’s digital trade protocol currently under negotiation. 

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