Tech to enable the success of Africa’s free trade deal

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Deputy minister of communications and digital technologies Pinky Kekana.
Deputy minister of communications and digital technologies Pinky Kekana.

Advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, data management tools and payment infrastructure will play a crucial role in enabling the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement toaccelerate intra-African trade.

This was the word from deputy communications and digital technologies minister Pinky Kekana, speaking at a media discussion on the side-lines of the Forbes Woman Africa Leading Women Summit, taking place in Durban today.

The event, themed “The Ceiling Crashers 2.0: Power with Purpose”, brings together influential women from across industries and professions, sparking ideas and inspiring attendees to break barriers through hard-hitting talks, fireside chats and insightful panel discussions.

Discussing the role of technology in breaking down inter-continental trade barriers and boosting Africa’s trading position in the global market, Kekana noted the signing of the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement by 44 countries was a tremendous milestone in the pursuit of integrated and inclusive economic growth on the continent.

She stressed the importance of African entrepreneurs, particularly woman entrepreneurs, to educate themselves about what this agreement means and how they can leverage innovation as a key tool to support the successful implementation of AfCFTA and increase business value.

“We are in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, with technology adding intricacy to Africa’s economy and employment structures. The use of technology can play an important role in helping to create tools like central trade information portals that provide important trading information to African businesses, educating them about trade within the continent. Other examples include cross-border centralised payment infrastructure, and monitoring and data analytics tools that can help SMEs gain a better understanding of the business landscape and day-to-day-issues faced by entrepreneurs on the continent.”

The AfCFTA is a free trade agreement among the African Union nations. It is the largest in the world in terms of participating countries, since the formation of the World Trade Organisation.

The agreement was brokered by the African Union and was signed by 44 of its 55 member states in Kigali, Rwanda, on 21 March 2018.

Under the agreement, which is expected to be enforced in the second half of 2020, member countries from Africa will remove tariffs from 90% of goods, allowing free access to commodities, goods and services across the continent.

Addressing inequality in Africa

For the AfCFTA to be completely successful, Kekana pointed out that economic growth of Africa must be tangible, and such growth can only be possible if inequality in all its forms is addressed.

“One of the most critical inequality issues that need strategic focus is gender inequality, especially from the perspective of economic and financial inclusion.It is therefore critical from the onset to drive a focused agenda on what the AfCFTA means for women in terms of their participation in cross-border trade, value chains and public procurement; the potential these hold for women; and the contributions women can make in fostering the aims and objectives of the AfCFTA.”

She cited a newly-formed non-profit, multi-stakeholder organisation, the Pan-African Business Women’s Association (PABWA), of which she is the chairperson, which was founded to address a lack of specification in the AfCFTA on and about women-owned businesses operating in Africa.

“Through PABWA, we will be rolling out the master-class series across the continent, starting in SA this month, to help women understand the details of the AfCFTA, the latest developments within this agreement, and the importance of innovation in enabling their businesses to scale.

“We are currently finalising the rollout of the five PABWA chapters across the continent. We are launching the Web site next week, to drive our online presence, and then in the next phase, we will evolve the Web site into a trade portal, creating an online resource and network for women in business globally, for the benefit of women in Africa. The portal will provide an online access resource for information on inter-continental trade, a directory of members, and information on members in a bid to market them to a global audience.”

PABWA seeks to ensure the trade agreement enables women to have a place and an opportunity to be active contributors to Africa’s economy and that no one is left behind, particularly in the technology space, concluded Kekana.

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