DG Okonjo-Iweala: Africa has many of the ingredients for digital success

Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said on 21 July that digital trade holds great promise to act as a catalyst for inclusive economic growth and sustainable development. “This promise is especially palpable in Africa,” she added. The Director-General was speaking at the launch of a joint WTO-World Bank policy note entitled “Turning digital trade into a catalyst for African development”.

The Director-General noted that reaping the opportunities of digital trade requires an adequate ecosystem, starting with good connectivity and encompassing other elements, such as sufficient skills, logistics and payments systems, and an enabling policy framework. Acknowledging the challenges that African countries face in this regard, she said that it is imperative that the international community steps up its action to support African countries’ efforts to benefit from digital trade.

The joint WTO-World Bank note presented today to African ambassadors provides an overview of trends in digital trade in Africa. It examines the challenges and opportunities that this trade presents for the continent and lays out the activities the international community is undertaking.

The note sets out a concrete workplan for how the WTO and World Bank Group can help African countries take fuller advantage of the opportunities presented by the shift towards digitally enabled trade.

The Director-General drew attention to a joint WTO-World Bank project on digital trade needs assessments, which is intended to complement the work of African members and the international community in this area.

The joint project aims at detecting obstacles to participation in digital trade, identifying specific policy actions, and designing World Bank-financed interventions to address those obstacles. A pilot project will be undertaken with one or two WTO members.

DG Okonjo-Iweala said: “I recognize and appreciate your own initiatives to leverage the benefits of digital trade. This testifies to our shared understanding that Africa cannot afford to be left behind — digital trade holds great promise for the continent. This also implies that the obstacles to leveraging the digital transformation need to be addressed.”

She added: “It is imperative that we establish the conditions and provide the support necessary for African countries to overcome the challenges and reap the opportunities that digital trade can offer.”

In her closing remarks, she said: “At the WTO, we are playing our part to ensure that members are able to harness the full potential of the digital economy to drive forward economic growth and development. I hope our collaboration with the World Bank will create a new avenue to strengthen our assistance to African countries as they face these challenges.”

The World Bank was represented in the opening session by Ms. Victoria Kwakwa, Regional Vice President for Eastern and Southern Africa and Mr. Ousmane Diagana, Regional Vice President for Western and Central Africa. Ambassador Eheth Salomon of Cameroon and Ambassador Adamu Mohammed Abdulhamid of Nigeria participated in the launch as discussants and shared their national trade experiences on digital trade.

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