Developing new trade opportunities through digital channels

Working together with small and medium sized enterprises, the International Trade Centre has produced two online platforms to increase competitiveness in the West African Economic and Monetary Union

by ITC News

Two new online platforms designed to facilitate trade and business opportunities for companies are now available through a partnership between the International Trade Centre (ITC) and the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA in French). 

Presented in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, during a regional meeting on the role of digital solutions in trade, the ConnectUEMOA and the Trade Obstacles Alert Mechanism (TOAM) platforms will contribute to the development of a more efficient commercial system by incorporating online solutions.

The ConnectUEMOA platform offers the user – seller or buyer – the possibility to both explore commercial opportunities as well as promote their own activities in the region and beyond. It offers enterprises a unique access point to a virtual marketplace whereby they can register their profiles, products and services. To deploy the platforms and ensure continuity of support, ITC trained responsible staff across the region on how to create attractive company and product descriptions. These “coaches” work with local partner institutions and are tasked with supporting small firms list their products online. Over 7,000 enterprises as well as 160 products are already digitally registered and available on the platform. ConnectUEMOA also facilitates access to the latest news and events.

The trade obstacles alert mechanism of UEMOA – TOAM – aims to identify and eliminate said obstacles to trade, with a particular focus on non-tariff barriers. More specifically, enterprises can report the obstacles they encounter and immediately alert the relevant agencies that can efficiently help the enterprises resolve the obstacles. The TOAM is a regional-level solution designed to promote cooperation between different countries to identify barriers efficiently. It will also help the Regional Trade Facilitation Committee to monitor the impact of the changes implemented.

Tapping trade, online

Digital solutions have a central role to play in facilitating the way trade is done today,’ said ITC Executive Director Arancha González. ‘It allows for more inclusive trade for the 21st century whereby communication and connection are powerful tools for enterprises, notably in Africa.’

West Africa is one of the most dynamic regions on the continent with annual export rates increasing by nearly 10% between 2015 and 2016. However, despite the promising potential, only 15% of exports actually occur.

‘UEMOA is full of potential that can be fully exploited via digital solutions,’ said Ibrahima Dieme, commissioner of the department of regional markets, commerce and cooperation. ‘By using the latest technologies and e-commerce, the digital platforms offer small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) the possibility of accessing useful information and publishing them in order to make the most of commercial opportunities in the region.’

Persistent trade barriers and obstacles can partially explain the mitigated impacts of regional integration on trade. According to research done by ITC, three-quarters of enterprises in West Africa face said barriers to trade.

Implemented and piloted in Côte d’Ivoire since 2014, ‘The TOAM has increased transparency and communication between traders and local authorities,’ said the Minister of Commerce of Côte d’Ivoire, Souleymane Diarrassouba. ‘The expansion of this mechanism across the region will strengthen its integration and further benefit SMEs – the pillars of the economy – and development of West Africa.’

To guarantee accurate and up-to-date information, the ConnectUEMOA and TOAM platforms will be, respectively, administered by organizations that focus on promoting trade as well as commerce chambers from the UEMOA region. 

These two initiatives are part of the Trade and Regional Integration Support Project, funded by the European Union to improve business competitiveness, increase economic growth and reduce poverty in West Africa.

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