An online tool designed to help businessmen and businesswomen in Africa understand how best to trade between African countries came to a step closer to becoming fully operational in August 2020 as a demonstration version came onstream.
The African Trade Observatory (ATO) – a mechanism being implemented by the International Trade Centre (ITC) to help the new African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) function when it goes live in 2021 – has begun testing the online dashboard to give real-time trade statistics to African users.
Such information will include intra-continental trade flows (traded values, traded quantities, the use of tariff preferences, taxes and fees paid at the border), and information on market conditions (such as taxes applicable at the border and regulatory requirements).
The transfer of raw data from providers to the ATO team will be automated where possible to make the collection of quantitative information sustainable.
The portal will be divided into three modules to allow users to:
- Compare trade opportunities in Africa
- Explore market access conditions of African partners
- Monitor the implementation process and achievements of the AfCFTA and the Boosting Intra African Trade Action Plan.
Members of the ATO Steering Committee were presented with a beta version of the Compare and Explore modules on 21 August 2020. These two pillars of the ATO Dashboard have been designed to support micro, small and medium enterprises in Africa to simplify their market research.
The first set of live demonstrations were organized in September and highlighted how users could compare challenges and opportunities of the African markets, and explore market access conditions and business partners to expand their business within the continent.
The ATO Steering Committee includes representatives of the African Union Commission, the European Union, ITC, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), and Regional Economic Communities (RECs).
Ms. Dorothy Tembo, then acting ITC Executive Director, said that timely trade data could positively impact policy and empower businesses. She said that the ATO would be an essential tool in AfCFTA implementation. She added that RECs’ presence on the Steering Committee portrayed a united front supporting African regional economic integration.
Mr. Thomas Huyghebaert, the EU Head of Cooperation in Addis Ababa, said: “The EU is committed to supporting the AU in its integration agenda, and ATO is one of the projects that it is supporting, which is a key operational tool to the AfCFTA.”
The EU has pledged an additional €5 million to the ATO project to expand its scope by including different modules on services, investment, and rules of origin. He noted that the AfCFTA is an essential pillar for the cooperation between the African Union and the European Union.
Mr. Chiza Charles Chiumya, the AUC Acting Head of Trade, participated in the Steering Committee review on behalf H.E. Amb Albert Muchanga and welcomed the participants to the ATO Steering Committee’s inaugural meeting. He said: “One of the reasons for the low level of intra-African trade is the absence of trade information and market opportunities.
The provision of market information and opportunities in Africa will be the main pillar of the ATO. Real-time data on trade flows is the new crude oil, especially now when the implementation of the AfCFTA is the beacon of hope towards the Post-COVID recovery strategy for Africa.”