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Digital Trade Story“We have to act now.” That was the call from Chris Southworth, Secretary General of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) during the Agroinvestment Summit in London on 4 June

He was urging investors to make contact with their African government representatives to be a part of the ICC’s e-commerce trade agreement which will cover at least 70 countries by 2020.

“One of the biggest barriers to digital trade is that every single country has its own regulatory restrictions and data localisation issues. Nobody has the scale, even the big tech companies don’t have the scale to merge finance with goods and services. But we will have scale if we get 71 countries to agree, but we will only do it if Africa comes on side.”

He said countries such as South Africa, Rwanda and Uganda were, in particular, challenged by the prospect of introducing e-commerce into businesses due to development concerns.

“We need to explain how we can take small companies and grow those small companies using digital means. It is important to demonstrate that it is not about big tech companies being dominant in this field. The issue is mostly that countries don’t have any legal frameworks for e-commerce. It’s much more important that we work together, put the legal frameworks in place and to manage that process of e-commerce. To stop companies coming in, to help enable access to global markets seems like a wrong approach. We have all those companies working and operating in the UK. It can work but we also have strong regulatory enforcement and strong legal structures to protect consumers. We can solve these sustainable development issues and use digital means to do it and enable women to come into the economy and the next generation of entrepreneurs, and leapfrog the whole process. But we have to do it now. Africa must come along otherwise the risk is that the only OECD countries break away and get a twin track process which we don’t want. We want everyone to move along in the same grouping. The biggest winner should be Africa."