By Asmau Ahmad
Business community stakeholders on Wednesday, urged entrepreneurs and exporters on the integration of e-commerce to fully exploit the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) $3.4 trillion market.
They spoke at a masterclass workshop and exporters on-boarding in Lagos with the theme: “Operationalising the AfCFTA Agreement for Nigerian Businesses through E-Commerce Channel.”
The workshop is to promote electronic commercialisations among entrepreneurs as well as deliberate on how e-commerce can further promote AFCFTA.
Dr Michael Olawale-Cole, President, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), noted that the AfCFTA would create the largest free trade area in the world, measured by the number of countries participating.
He stated that while the trade agreement had the potential to lift 30 million people out of extreme poverty, achieving its full potentials would depend on significant policy reforms and trade facilitation measures; one of which was e-commerce.
Olawale-Cole noted that the number of internet users in Africa increased to 601.94 million in 2022 from 590.30 million in 2021, resulting in 43.2 per cent internet penetration rate.
He, however, said that compared to other regions in the world, internet penetration in Africa was the lowest, noting that Africa accounted for the lowest contribution to global e-commerce sales.
“These statistics are growth opportunities. E-commerce is expanding rapidly in Africa, presenting an important opportunity for accessing untapped regional, continental and global markets, creating jobs and improving living standards.
“To optimally harness the potential of AfCFTA, there is no doubt that e-commerce is strategic.
“For this reason, this workshop must be of interest to all stakeholders – policymakers, regulators, government and the business community, and the rest,” he said.
Mrs Uju Uzo- Ojinnaka, Chief Executive Officer, Traders of Africa (TOFA), said TOFA was an infrastructure for suppliers and buyers to trade, thereby creating visibility and access to Nigerian products and commodities online.
She noted that the goal of NAC- AfCFTA would assist in aggregating products to ensure that suppliers were able to sell their products to buyers who required large quantities.
“Also, there is training for suppliers on how to sell their products online/offline and assist them to build capabilities that would enable them to sell commercially viable quantities across Africa and beyond.
“TOFA is a Pan African hub for facilitating trade with and within Africa through technology and is committed to spreading the good news of AfCFTA via E-Commerce.
“TOFA can help push forward Nigerian and Africa’s trade in the next 5-10 years and is going to be the go-to place to source for any product coming out of Africa.” she said.
Mr Olusegun Awolowo, Executive Secretary, National Action Committee, AfCFTA (NAC-AfCFTA), noted that while trading officially began on January 1, 2021, substantial trade could not occur because some critical structures and trading instruments needed to be in place.
Awolowo, represented by Dr Fatima Bello, Coordinator, Policies Regulations and Laws Workstream, AfCFTA, said an innovative interim approach called the Guided Trade Initiative (GTI) was developed to stimulate and encourage trading.
He said the GTI, which marked a turning point for trading under the AfCFTA, was currently being prepared for phase two with Nigeria actively preparing to partake of it upon it launch in October.
“There are certain requirements which a State Party must fulfil to participate in the GTI.
“It has received a checklist of eight requirements from the AfCFTA Secretariat in Ghana which it is complying with and is currently in the process of complying with the last outstanding requirement,” he said.
Alhaji Sada Ladan-Baki, Chairman Export group, said trade levels in Africa was emerging with a lot of it presenting as informal.
He charged government to ensure that the right, encouraging message was sent to exporters to enable and facilitate trade under the AfCFTA.
“We have to get organised in a manner that our skilled work force goes in a structured manner so that we have good inflow.
“Countries like Philippines and India rely on their foreign remittances and that’s what AFCFTA is all about, the free mobility of labour done in a way that is beneficial to everyone,” he said.