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Ecowas aimed at boosting e-commerce in West Africa.

The Economic Community of West African States Council of Ministers has approved a strategy to enhance e-commerce in the area through targeted initiatives tailored to local needs.

The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) has implemented a strategy to enhance regional e-commerce.

On July 7, the Ecowas Council of Ministers approved the strategy for the organization’s 15 member countries. It is intended to enhance e-commerce in West Africa by particular initiatives that react to local needs, as highlighted by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s (Unctad) recent eTrade readiness assessment.

The decision comes amid strong expansion in the African e-commerce business, with the number of users expected to increase by more than 40% and average revenue per user to increase by 17% between 2023 and 2027.

E-commerce foundation strengthening

Eleven of Ecowas’ fifteen members are LDCs, and the region, according to the Unctad assessment, suffers from a twofold digital divide.

On the one hand, certain Ecowas countries are already in the early stages of 5G deployment, whereas others are still fighting to ensure broadband availability.

At the same time, governments are divided as they strive to overcome inequalities in access to digital services or even access to energy for rural populations.

Through a harmonised and updated legal and regulatory framework, dependable digital payment methods, secure marketplaces or websites, and connecting e-commerce buyers and sellers with high-quality products via secure logistics and delivery services, the strategy aims to build trust along the e-commerce supply chain.

It also intends to provide trustworthy e-commerce statistics by establishing a regional e-commerce observatory and boosting Ecowas member nations’ data collection and analysis capacity.

This could eventually result in more informed, evidence-based decisions in the region, as well as targeted assistance from development partners.

The approach prioritizes digitally vulnerable groups such as women, youth, individuals with impairments, and informal cross-border e-commerce traders. It seeks to not only make e-commerce more accessible to these groups, but also to actively engage them as entrepreneurs and leaders in order to help create more jobs.

Increasing the rate of structural change

The strategy, which was developed through a multistakeholder and inclusive process, intends to accelerate structural transformation and growth while also boosting regional integration through economic diversification and job creation.

“Ecowas is committed to increasing e-commerce adoption and use to promote the implementation of the Ecowas Vision 2050 for an inclusive and sustainable development for the region,” stated Massandjé Toure-Litse, ECOWAS Commission commissioner for economic affairs and agriculture. “The e-commerce strategy will support the digital-driven structural transformation of the economies of member states, and deepen regional trade integration.”

The approach will allow the Ecowas Commission to better support regional trade ministries and assist member countries in diversifying their economies and leveraging new economic and trade opportunities through e-commerce. Member states, on the other hand, will drive implementation at the national level, with civil society and commercial sector actors also participating through an e-commerce community forum and expert groups.

According to UNCTAD, the project is related to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on promoting decent job creation and the formalization 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 developing country exports (17.11).

Ecowas is the fourth African regional economic community to develop an e-commerce strategy as a group. It follows the African Union’s establishment of an e-commerce strategy and comes ahead of the African Continental Free Trade Area’s digital trade protocol, which is now being negotiated.

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