Commonwealth supports Southern African trade officials to leverage e-commerce opportunities

14 September 2023

The Commonwealth Secretariat and United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) held a two-day workshop in Johannesburg this week for the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) Member States on leveraging emerging digital infrastructure and digital trade opportunities.

Focused on the need for the development of a regional framework on e-commerce within the SACU region, 50 trade officials from the Member States of Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and the SACU Secretariat discussed methods to advance work on e-commerce at the regional level and identified key elements to be considered in developing the framework.

In her opening remarks, the Chairperson of SACU and Deputy Principal Secretary of Lesotho’s Ministry of Trade, Tsireletso Mojela said:

“The outcome of our deliberations should assist SACU to draw insights that will help strengthen policy and practical interventions towards addressing the changing landscape for cross-border trade, and how SACU can collectively facilitate digital e-commerce trade in the Common Customs Area.”

The workshop is part of The Commonwealth’s Trade Competitiveness Section’s efforts to support its member countries to improve their global trade competitiveness while embodying the agreed commitment to support all member countries in the transition to an inclusive and sustainable digital future that was agreed upon by the Commonwealth Trade Ministers during the 2023 Commonwealth Trade Ministers Meeting in June.

Senior Director of the Trade, Oceans and Natural Resources Division of the Commonwealth Secretariat, Paulo Kautoke reiterated that:

“To ensure that our Member States continue to leverage the emerging digital infrastructure and digital trade opportunities, the Secretariat is determined to address the challenges that impede the expansion of e-commerce across the Commonwealth and ensure that the evolving digital technologies do not widen the existing digital divide.”

UNCTAD’s Chief of Digital Economy Capacity-Building Section, Cecile Barayre-El Shami in her remarks said:

“UNCTAD stands ready to support SACU on this path to harness further the potential of e-commerce and digital trade. The consultations that will take place today are very important. They will ensure the sharing of experience and lessons learnt. They will also allow for the needs and concerns of SACU Member States to be taken on board from the very beginning of this process.”

The workshop also included shared experiences from other international organisations such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), World Trade Organisation (WTO), World Customs Organisation (WCO), United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), along with representatives from the AfCFTA Secretariat, AU Commission and ECOWAS Commission, who discussed the promotion of cross-border e-commerce and opportunities for SACU Member States.