Highlights from BTN President, Olori Boye-Ajayi and Adebayo Adeleke’s Session at the WTO Public Forum 2022 in Geneva

The Working Session on Harnessing Technology and Digital Innovation to Advance Africa’s Trade and Sustainable Development Agenda was chaired by Ms. Gbemisola Osadua (Lead Advisor, Dynamics Impact Advisory (DIA), the Organizer of the Session. She opened the session by speaking briefly on the urgent need for the adoption of digital technology for Trade in Africa, towards attaining the objective of economic integration, and sustainable development on the continent, as enshrined in the Africa Agenda 2063 of ‘The Africa We Want’.

Ms. Osadua’s introduction was followed by a presentation from Dr. Olori Boye-Ajayi, President of Borderless Trade Network (BTN). Dr. Boye-Ajayi highlighted the peculiar challenges that women face, trading on the continent in relation to harnessing the potential of digital innovations. She shared examples of the collaboration efforts of BTN with various agencies to support women and make trading and businesses easier for them by leveraging technology. She emphasized the need to create fair opportunities for women in trade, when it comes to access to digital tools.

Her remarks were closely followed by Adebayo Adeleke’s (CEO of Supply Chain Africa (SCA) emphasis on Africa’s disjointed and fragmented economic and trade situation post-COVID. He discussed how Supply Chain Africa, a consolidating platform, is bringing to light everything that is right for supply chain systems in Africa as well as showcasing the stories of innovative Africans. He also underlined the peculiarities of Africa and how these distinguish the continent’s operations and procurement systems.

Jan Hoffmann, Head of the Trade Logistics Branch of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) discussed how technological advancement will be faster in the future than it is now. He shared examples from current multilateral approaches to embracing digital innovation, like the UNCTAD requirement that every country’s customs administration publish its rules, duties, and procedures.

The session also featured Dr. Bright Okogu, Chief of Staff of the World Trade Organization (WTO), who reiterated the need for an African approach to seek from moving from just discussions about potential to taking ambitious actions. He pointed out the inalienable role of digital innovation and technology in Africa’s trade and development, adding that the private sectors and SMEs are the drivers of Africa’s economy and not the government.

Professor Gabrielle Marceau, Professor of WTO Law and Practice, and Senior Counsellor at the WTO, in her response to a question from a participant at the session, explained the need to foster partnerships between the public and private sectors as a multi-stakeholders approach to addressing the challenges of digital trade in Africa. She cited an example from the approach of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, in engaging the Private Sector when she assumed office as the Director General of the WTO, to collaborate to facilitate trade for a speedy recovery from Covid and other urgent challenges that the multilateral trading system was facing.

Other Panellists spoke on the importance of supply chain in driving trade and commerce, the need for capacity building for Africa MSMEs, and the need to finance the actions that are needed for the continent to fully harness digital and technological innovations by young people, to drive the African trade and economic development agenda.

The WTO public forum was an avenue for the Borderless Trade Network to highlight some of its projected trajectories for the trade system in Africa, and also open up to collaborative initiatives aimed at enhancing the region.

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